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Isaiah Thomas Can’t Let Go

The former Cavaliers guard has a history of throwing shade at the teams that have traded him, but his recent comments about the Cavs strike a different note

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There’s a particularly potent strain of short-man syndrome in the NBA. In real life, a Napoleon complex is an annoying trait; in the league, it’s a competitive necessity. Players under 6-foot-3 have to have chips on their shoulders. Those missing inches need to be compensated for in fury. And Isaiah Thomas, who is listed at a generous 5-foot-9, has an NBA journey that has given him plenty to be, um, chippy about.

Sacramento dealt Thomas after a season in which he averaged comparable numbers to draftmate Kyrie Irving to Phoenix for a $7 million trade exception and the rights to Alex Oriakhi, both which expired unused. (Remember Oriakhi?! No. Of course you don’t. He didn’t play a single minute in the NBA.) Phoenix shrugged him off to Boston. After a historic season for Thomas, Boston sold high, trading IT, a draft pick, and some other pieces to Cleveland for none other than Irving. After just 15 games with Thomas on the court, Cleveland sent him to the Lakers for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. But I’m not here to dive into the ins and outs of Thomas getting lobbed from team to team. The chip that Cleveland left has caused IT to throw the league’s most post-trade shade since … Isaiah to Boston. Now, hours ahead of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, it appears to have come full circle: Isaiah appears to be rooting for the Cavs. Here’s a brief summary of Thomas’s recent history with not letting things go:

February 7

  • Cleveland beats Minnesota, 140-138, in overtime. “I don’t [want to be traded],” Thomas says after the game. “I’m tired of being traded. [...] We definitely have a real chance to win an NBA championship, and I want to be a part of that.” Please remember this excerpt for later: I want to be a part of that.

February 8

  • Cavaliers trade Thomas, Channing Frye, and their own 2018 first-round pick to the Lakers for Nance and Clarkson.
  • Thomas’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, responds to the trade by saying it’s actually a good thing: “[Thomas has] worked too hard to get back, and he’s a ball-dominant player,” Goodwin said. “It’s LeBron’s ball, and this clearly wasn’t working. [...] It wasn’t beneficial for either party. This is a good opportunity for Isaiah.” Notice the slight but deliberate sprinkle of shade: It’s LeBron’s ball.

February 12

  • Thomas has his first practice with Luke Walton and the Lakers. Afterward, he said, “I mean, this is the first real practice I had all year,” clearly suggesting that Cleveland didn’t have a real practice in the 37-day span for which he was active.
  • Thomas is asked again about the Cavs. “It just didn’t click for whatever reason,” he said. I’m not here to comment on that too much, but it is what it is.” As the evidence shows, he actually was here to comment on it … too much.

February 25

  • “I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas tells ESPN’s E:60 (the interview aired March 11). “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing—a lot.” “Panic mode” sounds like he’s dismissing the front office’s decision-making (or LeBron’s decision-making), but the losing was a fact. Cleveland was 31-22 and had lost four of their last five when Thomas was traded.

May 27

  • Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Thomas tweets: “Who’s winning the game tonight? Cavs or Celtics??” User @ChiTown_Eazy replies to him 39 minutes later, tweeting, “The team that traded you.” @ChiTown_Eazy’s response isn’t really the point, but I’m contractually obligated to point out him being dunked on like that. No, the takeaway here is that, three and a half months after being traded, Thomas is mentioning the Cavs without any subtle slights. He also had to know that his mentions would turn to Twitter jokes—yet he took the plunge and pressed send anyway. A tide turned with that tweet.
  • Thomas tweets “OMG!!!!!!!!” later during the game. That’s eight exclamation points folks. When was the last time you used EIGHT EXCLAMATION POINTS? I couldn’t pin down during which play exactly he sent this, but judging by the mentions—a mix of “stop whining” and “bet you wish you weren’t traded now”—my gut tells me it was when Cleveland (read: LeBron) did something OMG!!!!!!!! worthy.

Early on May 31

  • In an Instagram Live stream, Thomas says, “If the Cavs win, I need my ring. Bron, if the Cavs win, send me my shit. And my suits! I haven’t got none of my suits that I got fitted for. … Can you tell them to send me my suits? There was about five of them.” He’s referring to the matching gray suits LeBron purchased for the Cavaliers to wear during road playoff games. (Quick aside: Isaiah, I’m not sure that you want the suits. The pants are cuffed. It looked great on LeBron, naturally, but even noted Banana Republic model Kevin Love only barely pulled it off. He’s a foot taller than you!)
  • Thomas is also asking for a ring, which would obviously, after years in Sacramento and Phoenix, be his first. There is no official rule requiring NBA teams who have traded away players midseason to give said players rings, though it has been done: The Warriors gave Anderson Varejao a ring after he played 14 games, one fewer than IT played with the Cavs. Thomas asking implies not only that he’d want one from Cleveland, which he previously threw shade at left and right, but also that he believes his 15-game regular-season stint aided the team’s championship quest. As you’ll recall, on February 7, Thomas said, “We [the Cavaliers] definitely have a real chance to win an NBA championship, and I want to be a part of that.

Later on May 31

  • We’ve arrived at the peak:

#TBT let’s get it lol

A post shared by Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) on

“#TBT,” Thomas writes as the caption for a photo of him standing alongside LeBron and J.R. Smith. “Let’s get it lol.” Yes, Isaiah. Let’s.