As Isaiah Thomas sat in the middle of a five-person panel, clad in a wine-colored suit that perfectly contrasted the Cleveland Cavaliers wordmark over his left shoulder, it was the team’s general manager, Koby Altman, who persistently deflected every question about the most discussed body part in the NBA. Here was Thomas, the team’s newest acquisition, a player who nearly totaled 30 points per night a season ago, who was not so much the object of inquiry, at least compared to his hip, being shielded by Altman who was taking direct inquiries about one of the most-discussed topics in the league, and casting them aside with authority.
“This is not going to turn into the Isaiah Thomas hip press conference,” Altman stated, following a question directed at Thomas, shrouded in a cape claiming to be ‘in fairness” to the team’s would-be starting point guard. It was this very hip that became the center of the NBA Universe throughout the month of August as Thomas was the focal point of a trade for former Cleveland Kyrie Irving, but it would be his hip that would have weeks pass between when the trade was initially announced and when it would be finally deemed official by the Cavaliers’ front office.
It takes a special set of circumstances to have a player who was All-NBA a season ago after leading the Eastern Conference in scoring, yet be downgraded year-over-year in terms of where he ranks among his NBA brethren, yet here were all parties, attempting to redirect all attention on those very circumstances. You have a team, with a first-year general manager, that traded it’s top-tier, superstar point guard for three players and a draft selection while reportedly fielding several other offers, but one of those players could be facing an injury that some feel could be career threatening. You have a player who warned that the Celtics would be “backing up the Brinks truck” this coming summer, but who may not see the court until the All-Star break—if at all. And you have all involved parties unwilling to discuss the situation at any length, so much so that Thomas would just gesture for Altman to respond at the very mention of the word “hip.”
The issues, of course, have many folds. Fan confidence can be a fickle beast. During Thomas’ introduction to Cleveland, Altman urged the media to focus on IT the basketball player, the whirling dervish point guard who can slither his way to the rim, dropping in layups over a veritable forest of defenders larger than he. The kid who can take a hip hand-off at the top of the key and create just enough space en route to the rim, making would-be defenders look foolish. The kid who was the last pick in the very same draft that saw Irving go first overall, but has done nothing but prove all of the doubters wrong, doing so in the most high pressure of situations.1 But fans of the Cavaliers, those who want to picture this player wearing their city’s uniform, have no idea when this will be.
A quick, incredibly unscientific poll shows that fans still have some confidence in not just Thomas being a part of this season, but next season as well. The majority, however, believe that Thomas may only be here for a cup of coffee with the pot not even having been plugged in.
If you had to bet, the 2018-19 Cavs will include
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) September 13, 2017
If there is a silver lining to any of this, it’s that Thomas has perpetually overcome odds to get to a place where he is the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade. Five-foot-eight-inch individuals are not supposed to make it to the NBA level, let alone thrive. Second-round players becoming stars is a rare feat, but the last pick overall? In an era of wings leading teams to championship contention, point guards aren’t supposed to be the ones to lead their team to the top seed in the conference or the Conference Finals. Yet here Thomas is, overcoming obstacles throughout his entire career now facing the biggest one of all in his own body.
“It’s just been my story,” said Thomas. “I’m fine with it. I can say if it was something new—I averaged 29 [points] and they’re still going to talk. I could be MVP one day and they’re still going to say something is wrong. And that’s fine. I accept that. I’m going to keep using it as motivation to keep fighting and keep grinding. That’s been my mindset since Day 1. When it comes to basketball, that mindset doesn’t change no matter where I am at. I’m going to keep playing the way I know how, and I’m going to keep trying to win. It’s just been my story. I’ve had to fight my entire career and I’m going to keep fighting until that career is over.”
Thomas says he’s training with the goal of getting back to 100 percent as soon as possible. He also says he came to Cleveland to win a championship. He has one hell of a hill to climb to get to that point, and whether or not his body will let him take to the hill will be the overarching question until that day comes. When asked if any of this doubt fuels him even more, raised his index finger and thumb, spread them about a half-inch apart, and smiled.
“Just a little bit.”
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “He May Have Lost the Fight, but Conor McGregor’s Rollicking Afterparty Lit Up Las Vegas” by Ben Baskin (Sports Illustrated)2
- “Colin Kaepernick Has a Job” by Rembert Browne (B/R Magazine)3
- “How Travis Kelce Became the Most Fun Guy in the No Fun League” by Clay Skipper (GQ Magazine)4
- “Astros Brief Homestand Was Momentous for Players, City” by Dave Fleming (ESPN)
- “Even When Roger Goodell Wins, He Loses” by Dan Wetzel (Yahoo Sports)5
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “The First White President” by Ta-Nehisi Coats (The Atlantic)6
- “Seven Days of Heroin” by The Enquirer Media Network (Cincinnati Enquirer)7
- “Terminal: How Airport Security Came to Embody our National Psychosis” by Henry Grabar (Slate Magazine)
- “How Condé Nast Put the Squeeze on New Yorker Cartoonists” by Seth Simons (Paste Magazine)
This Week in Picks:
Holy hell, that was not a way to start out of the gate. While dogs fared pretty well throughout the week, the three I posted here did not. Had this column posted on Friday, I would have swapped in the Bears (+7) for sure, and possibly the Jets (+11), which would have taken me to 2-1, but I’m not going to pretend I had a great week all around. Alas, we’re rolling in to Week 2 with a goose egg.
Week 2 is always tough as it’s way too easy to read way too much in to one week of football. The Patriots probably aren’t going 0-2, but will they beat Minnesota by a touchdown? After a week of three- and four-point spreads, Week 2 has eight games with at least one touchdown as the spread with two being double digits. Do things regress immediately, or were initial thoughts just way off? Here’s where I’m leaning this week:
Dallas (Pick) vs. DENVER
New England (-7) vs. NEW ORLEANS
Green Bay (+2.5) vs. ATLANTA
Last Week: 0-3
YTD ATS: 0-3
- Boston was best in the NBA last season in fourth quarter scoring (27.7 points), led by Thomas’ bevy of clutch time statistics that place him among the best in the league. [↩]
- I love a good takeout. This is a great takeout. [↩]
- Rembert Browe Alert. [↩]
- Fewer things I look forward to more than when Travis’ head pops up in the bottom right-hand corner of the television and says “Travis Kelce, Cleveland Height, Ohio.” [↩]
- Your reminder that opinion pieces can also be #ActualSportswriting. Pay special attention to the complete lack of “I think”, “I feel”, and “I believe.” [↩]
- TNC is always required reading. This one is no exception. [↩]
- 60 different reporters collaborated for a tremendous piece of journalism just a few hours down I-75. [↩]