Best Potential 2014 Free-Agent Landing Spots for Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas doesn't have a ton of control over where he ends up this offseason, but the diminutive point guard can force the Sacramento Kings' hand by signing an early offer sheet that forces his old team to at least consider letting him go elsewhere.
After all, there's been quite a bit of interest in Thomas despite the still-young nature of the offseason.
The Kings point guard is three years removed from emerging as Mr. Irrelevant in the 2011 NBA draft, and he's coming off a stellar season in which he averaged 20.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, becoming one of the Association's more underrated floor generals in the process.
Thomas is undoubtedly a score-first 1-guard, but he's coming into his own on the defensive end, starting to look like an adequate defender even if his size will prevent him from ever becoming a true stopper. Between that, those scoring skills and his distributing, is it any wonder he's drawing so much attention?
"The Pistons, Heat, Lakers, Mavs and Suns have all expressed interest, with the Pistons showing the most interest to date and numbers starting in the three-year, $24 million range," explains Aaron Bruski of NBCSports.com. "Talks with teams in playoff contention have started in the $6-7 million per-year range."
When you include the Kings, who can match any offer sheet Thomas signs by exercising their right of first refusal, that's six teams. The Boston Celtics make it seven, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst.
Even for a rising point guard such as Thomas, not all options are going to be appealing. Some destinations stand out above the others.
7. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns may have been mentioned in the hunt for Thomas' services, but they shouldn't be considered serious suitors. Yes, even though they have some of the most cap space in the NBA and can offer any free agent a max contract if they so desire.
Why would they do that for Thomas?
Sure, the 5'9" floor general would fit in well next to Goran Dragic, who spent the 2013-14 season splitting time between point guard and shooting guard. Their combined scoring output would surely be quite impressive, and the benefit of having two capable distributors sharing the floor can't be understated.
However, Phoenix has other options.
Not only can they match any deal—even that seemingly inevitable max contract—for Eric Bledsoe, who's a significant upgrade over Thomas when he's healthy, but they also used a first-round pick to secure the services of Tyler Ennis.
The Syracuse product is a high-upside floor general who plays the position in a traditional manner. And while Thomas' skills would work next to Dragic's, Ennis' contributions are even more complementary. Plus, they come on a rookie-scale contract, not the exorbitant deal Thomas would have to sign with the desert-based franchise in order to scare off the Kings.
6. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are another team brimming with quality options in the backcourt.
Rajon Rondo is an All-Star point guard, one who was only held out of the game last season because he was recovering from a pesky torn ACL. But the dynamic distributor and triple-double machine is healthy now, ready to bring his talents back to the TD Garden.
Marcus Smart, the team's No. 6 draft pick in the 2014 selection process, is a high-upside floor general, one who can also line up at the 2. He's a big, physical presence who knows how to use his strength, and he should excel on both ends of the court once he adjusts to the NBA game.
Avery Bradley, who just inked a four-year deal worth $32 million, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, is another player who can line up at either spot in the backcourt. But while he's an incredible perimeter defender, his offensive limitations are significant.
So, where does Thomas fit in? He doesn't.
Should he be signed, it would be a clear indication that Rondo is on the way out, maybe even in a sign-and-trade deal that would send the talented point guard back to Sacramento, as Windhorst has explained.
But that's not a guarantee.
The wealth of talent in the backcourt prevents Beantown from being a premier landing spot for Thomas, but his ability to connect from beyond the arc—something that's hard to come by on the C's—makes him a better fit for the Celtics than the Suns.
5. Detroit Pistons
During the 2013-14 season, Thomas took 5.1 three-pointers per game for the Kings and connected on 34.9 percent of them. The year before that, the tiny scorer hit on 35.8 percent of his 4.1 attempts each contest from beyond the arc. And as a rookie, he drilled 37.9 percent of the deep tries while taking 3.4 during the average outing.
It's pretty clear that Thomas can shoot the ball.
And after a season in which they finished at or near the bottom in virtually every three-point category on the planet, the Detroit Pistons could surely use someone who can connect from beyond the arc. Brandon Jennings is a decent shooter, but he's too trigger-happy and can often shoot his team out of a game.
The Pistons have already upgraded their overall perimeter marksmanship by overpaying for Jodie Meeks, signing him to what Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports is a three-year deal for nearly $20 million. Between Meeks and an improved Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, shooting isn't as dire a need, though the more floor-spacers the better for a team with so many paint-bound big men.
Yes, Josh Smith should qualify as one, even if he's frustratingly unwilling to confine himself to that area.
The stylistic fit makes Detroit the best of the crowded locations for Thomas, as he could fire away from downtown with aplomb, but the Pistons still don't present an ideal landing spot. After all, while Thomas is better than Jennings, it's not a significant enough gap for him to earn the vast majority of the available playing time at the 1.
4. Sacramento Kings
Ultimately, the Kings stand tall as the most likely landing spot for Isaiah Thomas, even if there are better options for the point guard.
No matter what offer he signs with another team, Sacramento will have three days to match it. And if the team elects to do so, there's nothing the former Washington standout can do, as that's the whole point of restricted free agency.
Fortunately for Thomas, the Kings are a solid fit for his skills. We've learned that much over the last few years, as they've continued to give him opportunities to grow as a scorer and a distributor. Thomas has made remarkable strides since his college days, and he's seemed to develop camaraderie with many of his teammates.
As he told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, he thinks he can still become one of the better guards in the league:
I felt like if I was given an opportunity, I could be one of the top guards in the NBA. I’ve said that before and people kind of looked at me sideways. But I feel like it’s all about opportunity and taking advantage of what people give you. The Sacramento Kings and Mike Malone gave me an opportunity and I just ran with it and did the things that I know how to do.
That opportunity is still there.
By drafting Nik Stauskas at No. 8 on June 26, the Kings ensured they had only three options at point guard for the 2014-15 season: bringing back Thomas, starting Ray McCallum or finding a cheap alternative in free agency (Kirk Hinrich, for example).
Thomas is still the best of the bunch. The only problem is that he won't do as much winning in Sactown as he could elsewhere.
3. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat had their point guard rotation completely exposed by the San Antonio Spurs. Neither Mario Chalmers nor Norris Cole could get the job done against the vaunted Gregg Popovich defense, and Chalmers' shot was particularly awry.
Miami already started to remedy this problem by drafting Shabazz Napier, an NBA-ready floor general fresh off a championship season with Connecticut. Of course, it also helps that LeBron James has such a well-publicized affinity for Napier.
But an upgrade is still useful, and Thomas would certainly be one.
Of course, this is all assuming the Heat manage to re-sign each member of the Big Three and still have that $12 million left over, as Windhorst reports the organization has been explaining to free agents. Should that be the case, the Heat can make a tempting offer and still have enough left to land a veteran at either small forward or center, though a pay cut would be necessary.
Thomas' shooting fits in nicely with the Heat, but Miami isn't quite an elite destination for him. After all, Napier is going to earn playing time, and the point guards won't be able to control the ball nearly as often while playing alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
South Beach is certainly tempting, but there are better alternatives. Two of them, in fact.
2. Dallas Mavericks
Do the Dallas Mavericks really want to start Raymond Felton at point guard?
The deal that brought Felton to town was more about acquiring Tyson Chandler, rekindling the frontcourt dynamic that led to a championship the last time Dirk Nowitzki and the rim-protecting big man teamed up in the Big D.
That adds to the free-agency appeal for the Mavs, as Chandler's pick-and-roll skills compress defenses to open things up for shooters, and his defensive abilities should help get the Dallas point-preventing unit out of the gutter.
Partially, at least.
Can you imagine the offensive capabilities of a Mavericks squad that boasted the services of Thomas, Monta Ellis and Dirk? Better yet, imagine them paired with Shawn Marion or Vince Carter, assuming Mark Cuban can convince either (or both) to come back for discounted deals.
That's a scary combination of driving ability and outside shooting. The Dallas offense was already one of the best in the NBA during the 2013-14 season, and the addition of Thomas could make it the best.
No hyperbole involved.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Have you ever gotten Isaiah Thomas confused with Isiah Thomas? I don't blame you, seeing as there's only one letter different between the two point guards, even if one is still growing and the other is a Hall of Famer with one of the best resumes of all time.
But there's a reason the smaller Thomas is named after the former Detroit Piston, as Billy Witz once explained for The New York Times:
Thomas came by his name through his father’s misfortune. James Thomas grew up in Inglewood, Calif., where the Lakers played their games at the Forum. A big Lakers fan, Thomas was so sure that the two-time defending champion Lakers, after rolling through the Western Conference playoffs unbeaten, would beat Detroit that he made a bet. If the Pistons won, he would name his son after their star point guard, Isiah Thomas.
When your father is that big a Lakers fan, you're going to become one too.
And Thomas did.
"It’s well-documented that Thomas grew up a diehard fan of the Lakers since his father is from Los Angeles, and he has idolized Bryant since he was a child," explains Kennedy. And when the Basketball Insiders reporter asked Thomas about what it would mean to get an offer from the Purple and Gold, he was rather forthcoming with his answer:
It would mean a lot. Not even just the Lakers, but just to have other teams trying to get you, it means you’re wanted. Like I’ve said in interviews before, I just want to be wanted. I want to be wanted for being 5'9" and I want to be wanted for being a scoring point guard. That’s all that I can say. If that’s the Lakers, I’d be happy. If that’s the Kings, then I’d be happy. I just want to be wanted and I want to win.
The Lakers are the perfect storm.
A chance to start for one of the most glamorous teams in sports? Check (even though Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall are under contract). A chance to play with Kobe Bryant before taking over as one of the franchise faces? Check. A chance to win games? Check (assuming the rebuild goes according to plan).
Much like Monta Ellis, Los Angeles has it all.
But can the Lakers pry him away from the Kings without submitting an unreasonable offer? That's where things get tricky.