The News: Isaiah Thomas is done for the rest of the season. The Lakers announced Wednesday that the embattled point guard will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right hip. The surgery was described as “minimally invasive” in a statement by a doctor to ESPN, with the goal being to clean up all “inflammatory debris” from last season’s injury. Thomas, who started the season with the Cavs after an offseason trade from the Celtics that you may have heard about, missed the first three months of the season while recovering from the hip injury that derailed his 2016-17 season in Boston.
The Importance: The Lakers were eliminated from playoff contention Monday night in a loss to the Pistons, so Thomas’s absence has no more bearing on this season. Where the situation gets dire is in looking ahead to the offseason. A year ago, Thomas was looking at a big payday, the now-infamous “Brink’s truck” deal, after finishing fifth in MVP voting. But Thomas played through the hip injury during last year’s playoffs, and now the injury is likely to cost him millions of dollars. The 29-year-old point guard didn’t look right when he returned to play with Cleveland in January, and has looked better, though not 100 percent, after he was dealt to the Lakers at February’s trade deadline. He’ll finish this season averaging nearly 14 fewer points per game than he did last season and having played in only 32 games.
The surgery may ultimately help Thomas get right, once and for all, but it clouds his impending free agency. Thomas will likely need to find a team to bet on him for one season and prove he’s healthy, likely at a much lower price. The Lakers, who are preparing to chase LeBron James and Paul George this summer, are reportedly still interested in bringing Thomas back next season, especially if they strike out on bigger free-agent fish and are forced to look for one-year deals to roll their cap space over to the next summer.
The Takeaway: Thomas’s sudden fall from grace feels like the cruelest example of the “basketball is a business” cliché. In August, Thomas was claiming that he wasn’t “damaged” and that he would return and be the same player he was during his All-NBA season in Boston. Instead, he cratered the situation in Cleveland by speaking out on the team even though he wasn’t playing well either, and essentially forced the Cavs to dump his contract and move on. He never lost his confidence and bravado, but it backfired at times. (Though it’s worth mentioning that he never got fully healthy and probably shouldn’t have played on multiple occasions.) It’s hard to fault Thomas for being competitive, but looking back on the season that transpired, it’s also hard to see how it could have gone any worse.