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After bouncing around the NBA during the early part of his career, Isaiah Thomas elevated his game with the Celtics. He became an All-Star in his first full season in Boston, turning into a dynamic scorer in the process. However, the 2016-17 season was full of ups and downs for Thomas — and it eventually cost him millions of dollars. So what happened? And what can Thomas do to salvage his career?

Isaiah Thomas’s MVP-caliber season in Boston

After posting 22 points and six assists per game in 2016-17, Thomas became one of the best players in the league the following season. He averaged nearly 29 points and five assists while leading Boston to the playoffs.

Thomas was one of the leading candidates for NBA MVP. He was also in line for a max-level contract. The Celtics entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Then, tragedy struck Thomas’s family.

Playoff injuries and losing a family member

Thomas lost his sister in a car accident during the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Instead of taking time to grieve with his family, he suited up and helped propel the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

During the playoff run, Thomas dealt with a severe hip injury but played through it. The Cavs won the series in five games. Instead of offering Thomas a max deal worth $80-$100 million dollars, the Celtics moved him in a shocking trade.

The Celtics trade Thomas to Cleveland

When he was first traded to Cleveland, the deal wasn’t approved. The Cavaliers found out about the significant hip injury, and the Celtics had to sweeten the deal in order to offload Thomas.

Thomas played in just a handful of games for Cleveland due to the injury and rehab. He also voiced his displeasure with the state of the team. This led to another trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, who were in rebuild mode and wouldn’t offer him a long-term deal either. 

Bouncing around the league since

Isaiah Thomas of the Washington Wizards prior to a 2020 game
Isaiah Thomas of the Washington Wizards prior to a 2020 game | Will Newton/Getty Images

When he arrived at the Lakers, Thomas played pretty well in a backup point guard role. He averaged 15 points per game but knew it was an audition for another team. He ended up signing a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets. 

Thomas was plagued by injuries in his lone season with the team, averaging only eight points and two assists per game in 12 appearances. The Nuggets did not offer him another deal, and he went to the point-guard-starved Washington Wizards during the 2019 free agency class.

With John Wall out for the year due to Achilles injuries, we expected him to thrive in the Wizards offense. And he seemed to breathe new life into his career. Averaging 12 points and almost four assists per game this season, Thomas helped the Wizards become one of the fastest-paced NBA teams.

What could have been for Thomas

If the Celtics offer Thomas a max contract, how does that affect the future of the NBA? We think the Cavs won’t trade Kyrie Irving until the final year of his deal. LeBron will still leave for the Lakers, but the Celtics don’t have the money to sign Gordon Hayward to his long-term contract either.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will still come to Brooklyn together but Thomas and the Celtics are a thorn in the side of both the Raptors and Bucks for East supremacy.