DENVER – Those who thrived, lived and suffered with Isaiah Thomas through tragedy and injury during the 2017 playoffs haven’t forgotten.
And as the 5-foot-9 point guard attempts a comeback from hip surgery now, after signing a one-year minimum contract with Denver last summer, friends like Marcus Smart and Brad Stevens are as supportive of his story as ever. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Thomas is expected to return to a very good Nuggets team at some point next month.
“Every time,” Smart said Monday morning of whether he still feels for Thomas’ plight. “That’s a guy who put his heart and soul in every game and sacrificed a lot. The passing of his sister (Chyna), and he comes out and goes crazy. Anybody in their right mind would have understood him taking that time out to be with his family and the mourning of his sister, but that’s the type of person IT is – a competitor.
“He came out and played that game for her, gave it everything he had, and in the blinking of an eye it’s like, where’s he at now?” he said. “He’s kind of vanished. Nobody really talks about him, and this guy was one of the best players to ever do it. He still has the single game playoff record of what, 53 points, of any active player? That’s ridiculous, insane.”
Thomas will eventually return to a Denver team that is not only young, but perhaps the Western Conference’s biggest surprise, with the Nuggets off to an 8-1 start heading into Monday night’s game against the Celtics at the Pepsi Center.
Smart has no doubt that Thomas, who has spent his entire life in basketball overcoming the cynicism of the basketball establishment, will eventually succeed again, this time as a proven veteran scorer on a team of young stars.
“Oh man, IT, man, he’s gonna be alright,” said Smart. “I think it’s good he’s taken this full year off to rehab that body and give himself a chance to be ready for next season. Get his mind back right, clear his mind and get focused. But this will do justice for him and he’ll come back strong.”
Brad Stevens certainly hopes there’s another fruitful chapter in Thomas’ career.
“As you know, IT is one of a kind and for all of us that have been with him and spent time with him, we’re hopeful that this time when he comes back he feels great and is ready to roll,” said the Celtics coach. “There’s no question his impact on an organization and a team is hard to match. He meant so much to me and the way he kind of captivated Boston and the years that he had there it’s amazing. He’s an amazing guy. We obviously still keep in touch pretty regularly, but we’ll all look forward to seeing him back out on the court.”
Stevens admits that even now, with the dawn of the Kyrie Irving era in Boston, many miss what, not so long ago, was Thomas’ dynamic time as a Celtic.
“That was a really hard time because there was never a thought that we would possibly have traded him, and then Kyrie became available,” said Stevens. “So it was a super-unique situation and that was a tough one in all the households in Boston, but certainly the Stevens household as well.
“But that’s because he did so much in Boston because he was so well-liked and how much he poured his heart into the game of basketball,” he said. “This guy works as hard and is as dedicated as anyone I’ve been around. That’s why we all are smarter than to bet against him, because when he gets back out on that court he’s going to make a heck of a difference.”