Sometimes, being good enough just doesn’t cut it, especially in the case of restricted free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas. Despite numbers that put him in elite company in 2014, IT is still waiting for a deal to materialize. He thinks he knows why, too.
Thomas’ averages of 20 points and 6 assists this past season were matched only by LeBron James, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving. The 5-9 Thomas believes his height is the only thing holding him back from getting the opportunity and contract he’s earned through his play.
SLAM caught up with the Tacoma, WA, native on the opening day of the Reebok Breakout Classic camp in Philadelphia. The former University of Washington standout took part in the Classic Rap Roundtable, along with Shaquille O’Neal, Dominique Wilkins, Shawn Kemp and others while rocking a fresh pair of Kamikaze II Lows. After telling campers about his path to the pros and the hard work they have ahead of them, he got up with SLAM to talk about his free agency, some high school memories and the Seattle basketball scene.
SLAM: How’s your summer going as you play the waiting game with free agency?
Isaiah Thomas: It’s going alright. I’m just working out, spending time with my two boys, and just being a family man. That’s all I can do right now.
SLAM: Is your agent handling most of it, or are you involved?
IT: I’m involved but my agent gets the calls each and every day. We’re just taking it a day at a time. We know that everyone is waiting on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to make their decisions and I think after that things will start to get rolling a lot faster.
SLAM: Shaq said down there (on the panel) that you’re coming back to Sacramento. Is that your No. 1 choice, to be back there?
IT: I just want to be wanted. I don’t know if they really want me like other teams do. Like I said, since day one I just want to be wanted. I know there’s a few teams out there that’s showing a lot of interest. I’m just waiting to see what’s the best fit for me. At the end of the day it’s a business and you’ve got to do what’s best for yourself.
SLAM: The team signed Darren Collison last week. After the season you had, how did it feel to see them go out and get another point guard when you’re sitting there?
IT: It hurt, but at the same time that’s been my story my whole life. People have doubted me, people always bring guys in who they think are going to outplay me or outwork me and that’s just not the case. I’m going to just continue working hard, continue to be me, and hopefully a real good team wants me on their team and I can go there.
SLAM: Do you have any potential landing spots you could tell me, places you’re interested in going?
IT: The teams that have contacted with a lot of interest are the Lakers, the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns and the Detroit Pistons. They’ve all got their pros and cons, at the end of the day you’ve got to do what’s best for yourself. I could see myself with any of those teams.
SLAM: Is anyone the favorite so far, or are you just waiting to see how everything shakes out?
IT: The Lakers, Dallas or Phoenix.
SLAM: There’s some talk, a lot of people seem to think you’re not a starting point guard, you’re best as a sparkplug or Sixth Man. Why do you think you’re a starting point guard, what makes you right for that role?
IT: A lot of guys in this League can’t average 20 points and 6 assists in this League like I did. I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but that’s tough to do. With talented guys around me, I can lead a team to the Playoffs, and I’m going to show people that, I’m going to prove people wrong. I know that being 5-9 that scares a lot of people, because that’s not the prototypical starting point guard in the NBA. I’m going to keep fighting, keep working and I’m going to show teams and show people that I am a legitimate starting point guard.
SLAM: Do you think your size is one of the reasons the Kings are hesitant to bring you back? Throughout your career you’ve played well every time you’ve gotten the opportunity, but it’s seemed like every time they’ve been trying to throw someone else in there, whether it’s Grievis Vasquez, Tyreke Evans or whoever.
IT: It’s frustrating, but at the same time I don’t expect anything, I was never given anything my whole entire career. I just take all challenges, I take on all challenges. Whatever happens, I expect it to happen. I just continue to work, that’s all I can do, and continue to show that I am a pretty good player in this league.
SLAM: Do you think your draft slot has anything to do with it? Kyrie Irving was drafted the same year as you, you guys posted similar averages and he got that contract extension and you’re still waiting. Do you think it might be because you were the last pick in the draft?
IT: It’s not even that. It’s because I’m 5-9. If I was 6-foot, I would be signing for $90 million contract, just like him. Not to put anything on him, he’s a great player and he’s earned that. But at the same time, I know the politics of the game and I know what I’ve been through to this point. I’m 5-foot-9 and that’s why I was the 60th pick. That’s why the Kings keep bringing new guys in. That’s the reason why. And I understand and you can’t put it past that. If I was 6-foot, I would be a max player. I think a lot of people feel that way, too.
SLAM: Moving onto the Reebok Camp, you said you came to this camp three times. How much of an impact was that on your career?
IT: It was big. My first year coming, that’s when OJ Mayo was the No. 1 player in the country, Greg Oden was there, Kevin Love. All the top guys that you see in the NBA right now, they were there. It helped so much, just to compare my game to those type of guys and to just compete on the level that they’re at. It’s the same thing in the NBA, it feels like camp every time you play in the NBA because those are the players you’ve seen growing up or played against growing up. This opportunity doesn’t go to everybody, I tell kids all the time. When the opportunity comes, take advantage of it, because you might not get it again.
SLAM: You graduated high school in 2007, when social media was kind of just getting started. How much has it changed for the players now, they can tweet at each other, add each other on Facebook. How much has that changed from when you were in high school.
IT: Man, it’s changed a lot. I imagine me having Twitter in high school. It gets you more exposure, somebody sees you, they tweet you, retweet it, everybody sees that, little things like that. The social media is definitely helpful for the young generation.
SLAM: Do you think they know their competition better than you knew yours back in high school?
IT: Oh, no doubt. You know who this guy is, what city he’s from, what high school he goes to, what rank he is, what schools he’s considering, you know all that.
SLAM: How closely do you follow the high school basketball season back home?
IT: I always follow the top high school guys, they usually play open gym with the pros out there. Isiah Brown is here, he’s from Seattle, he’s a pretty good player. Dejounte Murray, he’s an up-and-coming player at the LeBron James Skills Academy. We’ve got a few guys that are very talented and they’re going to be the next guys to make it out of the Northwest.
SLAM: How do feel about there not being an NBA team in Seattle still?
IT: It sucks. It’s crazy because you can ask anybody that’s been in the NBA, they always say, “Man, we miss that Seattle trip.” So hopefully, sometime soon in the next year or two Seattle gets a team back because that city needs it. They’re one of the greatest fans in the world. I remember going to games watching Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton and watching Kevin Durant when he played there for a single season. We need a team, we need one badly and I think we’ll have one.