Former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant issued a challenge to Isaiah Thomas on Instagram Thursday following his trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers: "I challenge you to make the All-NBA First Team next season."
Bryant also issued several other challenges on Instagram Thursday, including one for DeMar DeRozan ("I challenge you to rekindle a lost friendship from your youth in Compton"), rapper Kendrick Lamar ("I challenge your record label to revolutionize the music program at Centennial High School"), Allyson Felix ("I challenge you to coach the sprinters for the upcoming Special Olympics") and Richard Sherman ("I challenge you to break the Seahawks single season interception record").
The Boston Celtics traded Thomas to the Cavaliers alongside Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 unprotected first-round pick in exchange for Kyrie Irving on Tuesday. It was the biggest blockbuster trade in a summer during which an unprecedented number of stars changed teams.
Thomas, 28, was brilliant for the Boston Celtics last season, averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. While those numbers came with him serving as Boston's No. 1 option, he will now play second fiddle to LeBron James in Cleveland.
That may actually help Thomas, who will benefit from James' playmaking ability and defenses collapsing around the NBA's best player. In turn, Thomas could see a greater number of open looks, much as Irving did during his time with James in Cleveland.
As Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer wrote:
"Cleveland can plug Thomas into Irving's role without missing a beat. He was a better version of Kyrie last year, at least in the regular season. They are both ball-dominant point guards who can score at will but struggle on defense. The difference is Thomas scored more often and more efficiently, despite playing with significantly worse teammates.
"Defenses sold out to stop Thomas, double-teaming and shadowing him all over the court, knowing guys like Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Crowder couldn't consistently punish them when left open. Thomas had a prime Allen Iverson season, but better, carrying a team full of role players to the No. 1 seed in the East. The Celtics were tied with the Warriors for the best offensive rating in the NBA (113.6) when Thomas was in, and they were dead last (99.0) when he was out."
Making the leap to the All-NBA first team is hardly a stretch, as Thomas was a second-team selection last season. Leapfrogging last year's first-team selections—James Harden and Russell Westbrook—is no small task, however. Neither would be finishing above players like Steph Curry (2017 second team), John Wall (2017 third team) or DeRozan (2017 third team).