The 11 grueling months of rehab have done nothing to diminish Isaiah Thomas’ confidence.
“I got a goal that I want to reach,” Thomas said Wednesday morning while speaking to the media for the first time this season. “I want to be one of the best players that ever played the game. There’s no quit in me. This is just a part of my story.”
Thomas, whose most recent game was last March before undergoing season-ending hip surgery, is both nearing his return and his Denver Nuggets debut. He wouldn’t commit to playing Wednesday against Sacramento but said if not Wednesday, his debut would come “right after All-Star weekend.”
According to a league source, it’s up to Thomas whether he’ll play against the Kings.
Thomas, famously the last pick in the 2011 draft, has undergone a whirlwind of stops – and heartache – since he was an MVP candidate in Boston. He was unceremoniously traded to Cleveland after his stirring playoff run in the spring of 2017, which coincided with the tragic death of his sister, Chyna, in a single-car accident. He was then dealt to Los Angeles at last year’s trade deadline before opting to undergo the right hip procedure.
Thomas knows his story matters to people in Boston and across the world — a 5-foot-8 underdog who has refused to quit.
“It wasn’t just me, though, it was like the world helped me get through that,” Thomas said. “And also, I’m your guys’ height, most of you guys’ height. The world’s height. They kind of gravitate to stories like that. Guys being overlooked, guys being counted out. I know my story’s inspirational to all the kids around the world.”
Thomas has admitted he came back too soon with the Cavaliers last season. This year, even though he’ll join a Nuggets team that’s surging toward the playoffs, he’s taking a more practical approach.
“Last year, I was all wanting it back in day one, and that’s not going to happen,” Thomas said. “I’ve been out even longer than I was last year, so I’m going to be patient with my body, I’m going to be patient with my game, knowing that it’s going to take a while. It took me years to get to an MVP level, and I know it’s going to take me a while to get back to that level and get back to feeling like that player again.”
Thomas said his hip is “almost 100 percent” but realizes it will probably never be fully healthy. He has played 5-on-5 in recent days against his teammates and admitted that before that, the best he could do was get some runs in at local gyms. He’ll start on a minutes restriction and then see how his body responds to game action, which will dictate his playing time moving forward.
The other obstacle for Thomas is that reserves Monte Morris and Malik Beasley have thrived in his absence. Nuggets coach Michael Malone called it a “good problem,” but it’s one the Nuggets are faced with nonetheless. How does the two-time All-Star fit alongside his new teammates?
“I don’t know, I really don’t,” Thomas said. “But my job is not to fit in, it’s to stand out, no matter what team I’m on. I’m going to do whatever I can to get minutes on the basketball floor and I’m going to play to win and help this team get to the next level.”
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