Isaiah Thomas finally is back on the hardwood, which is good news for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they look to gain their footing amid an up-and-down season and ultimately make a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
But Cleveland’s future beyond this season is murky, with LeBron James expected to opt out of his contract this summer, and Thomas’ impending free agency is a fascinating storyline to watch.
Thomas is set to hit the open market and has made it clear he wants to be paid handsomely — “bring the Brink’s truck out,” as I.T. famously said while with the Boston Celtics — after years of being underpaid by NBA standards. He’s earning $6.3 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $27 million contract he inked in 2014 while going from the Sacramento Kings to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade.
Several factors that could impact Thomas’ payday, though. He’s turning 29 next month, is coming off a hip injury and the market for point guards hasn’t been quite as robust over the last year. Plus, the salary cap won’t see another huge jump and several teams who once seemed like potential landing spots — the Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers, to name a few — seemingly have found their point guard solutions.
So, what exactly does this mean for Thomas? Well, for one, these next few months are incredibly important for the two-time All-Star as he looks to prove he’s worth a contract in the neighborhood of $100 million, especially since his best chance at landing such a deal might be with his current team.
League executives and agents judging the market believe Thomas’ best chance at a significant contract this offseason is with the Cavaliers, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. And the Cavs believe he will proceed accordingly, Windhorst wrote Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether James’ situation will directly impact Thomas’ future, but according to Windhorst, some believe the Cavs might still be interested in retaining I.T. as long as he can return to his All-Star level over the remainder of this season. Cleveland will have Thomas’ full Bird rights and can pay him, which Cavs owner Dan Gilbert might be inclined to do given that Thomas was one of the main assets the team received in exchange for shipping Kyrie Irving to Boston.
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