It seems like Isaiah Thomas hasn’t played in the NBA in ages. His last stint was with the Wizards, where he was an okay role player in a limited role. Thomas was still bad on defense and seemed a step slow, despite his spot-up shooting improving. Isaiah Thomas is a low-risk high reward player: if Thomas is healthy he can play a useful role on most teams. Contenders would like his 3PT shooting (41.3% this season) while rebuilding teams could appreciate his ability to handle the ball and pass well.
During this offseason, it is unlikely that Thomas will command a huge contract. A “prove it” veteran minimum should be enough to entice him and could be huge for any team. We know that Thomas will put in the maximum effort to stay an NBA player: while he may not be an All-Star anymore, he is still a capable player on the offensive end. Teams may want to take a flyer on the former MVP candidate; these are some teams that may call Thomas in free agency.
5. Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets have just drafted an amazing point guard in LaMelo Ball. Ball is likely to have the basketball in his hands most of the time, but everyone goes to the bench and needs a breather. The Charlotte Hornets could sign Isaiah Thomas to back up Ball, giving him quality minutes when Ball is off the floor. The Hornets would have Devonte’ Graham and LaMelo Ball being the main playmakers in the starting lineup, while Thomas could take command of the second unit as a 6th man.
The prospect of Thomas on a veteran minimum is appealing to the Hornets. He has immense upside if he can get up to even 60% of his All-Star play. Since they aren’t winning much this season, the Hornets could let Thomas build up his value while possibly trading him; they could also ink him to a mid-level contract to mentor LaMelo Ball in the future. Both those options sound fairly appealing to a team that made splashes during the draft and offseason.
4. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors are in trouble, but not as much as one would think. Of course, it is awful losing Klay Thompson to injury. However, they could still be in play for the bottom seeds in the West: Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall are capable young players who will play a bigger role and don’t forget about their No. 2 overall pick, James Wiseman. They have a great younger core that can develop alongside Stephen Curry; a good comparison could be the early 2000s Indiana Pacers, who let Reggie Miller age out while still being highly competitive.
To reach this ideal world where Stephen Curry competes till he’s 40, the Warriors will need to make some signings to shore up their depth. Players will tire out over a long season if you play them all the time. Isaiah Thomas could be that signing for the Warriors. If they sign him and are good, then they keep him on the veteran minimum and try to compete throughout the season. If the Warriors are bad, they let him put up stats on the bench while their younger players develop. A good situation for everybody.
3. Houston Rockets
Despite all the rumors, neither Russell Westbrook nor James Harden has been traded yet. Instead, the Rockets have moved to sign DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood. They’re also bullish about demanding a star and future assets in return for James Harden; while a lot of teams are intrigued, perhaps front offices do not want to mortgage their entire future for an aging star. If trades don’t materialize, then Westbrook and Harden could stay put and run it back. If that happens, they’ll need some help.
Similar to their deal with DeMarcus Cousins, the Rockets could pursue another former All-Star who’s been through a slew of injuries. They could gamble again by signing Isaiah Thomas: while most of Westbrook and Harden’s minutes are staggered, perhaps another ball-handler with some creation ability could be beneficial for their roster. Scoring off the bench is useful: the Rockets have Eric Gordon, but more scoring isn’t bad most of the time. Thomas would be a great signing if the Rockets do decide to compete for another year.
2. Phoenix Suns
A return to the Phoenix Suns could be another option for Isaiah Thomas. He has a history there, having played for the team before his tenure in Boston. A return could be beneficial for both parties: having traded for Chris Paul this offseason, the Suns look like they’re going to try to put a competitive team around Devin Booker. If they are trying to be competitive, then a bench signing like Thomas would do wonders. Sometimes your stars aren’t going to play well: you’re going to need other pieces to take over.
The Suns went 8-0 in the Orlando bubble: that was a good start, and now they’ve added Chris Paul to further try and compete in the Western Conference. More veterans with playoffs experience are good, and on top of that, it seems like the Suns don’t have a good bench point guard. Isaiah Thomas could step into that bench creating role while helping the Suns reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
1. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are always a prime destination for free agents. Especially free agents that want to work hard and play a role in team culture. Jimmy Butler has instilled a culture of hard work and determination within the franchise this season. The Heat will most likely try to get to the Finals again this season: to do that they need some upgrades on their team. Signing Bam Adebayo to a long term contract has only increased their appeal in the eyes of free agents; people would be willing to take pay cuts to join a winning franchise.
If Butler and the Heat are convinced that Thomas could turn it around and be a productive veteran then they could sign him. While Thomas would have a more limited role here than most other places, he could play the same part that Rajon Rondo did during his recent championship with the Lakers. All that would be needed of Thomas would be to play good basketball and score open shots. He can do both things. Just like another former Celtics guard in Rajon Rondo, Thomas can learn to adapt to a lesser role during the regular season, while saving his performances for the playoffs.