Isaiah Thomas is back! But he's not as happy as you may think he would be after coming back from a seven month absence.
Isaiah returned to the Cavaliers lineup five games ago, and in that time the team has posted a subpar record of 2-3. One of those losses came from the Boston Celtics. It was a game that Isaiah missed because of it's nature: the second game of a back-to-back, and just after his first game all season. It makes sense that the Cavs would ease him back into the heavy workload that is asked of professional athletes. Anyways, the Cavs have stunk recently, particularly in their past two games, where they've lost by a combined total of 62 points. Versus the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, the team lost by 28 smackeroos, 127-99. Last night against the Toronto Raptors, they were beaten by 34 big ones in a 133-99 loss. The tears from Cleveland fans surely have all of us in Boston smiling from ear to ear.
The Cavaliers allowed 133 points, the most in a regulation game in LeBron James' career.
Slumps like this aren't uncommon for the Cavs. They've had spells like this occur for the past few seasons, and LeBron James relayed this message yesterday morning when he said:
This is just us during the regular season. It's been four years since I've been back, and this has just been us. We have great months, we have not-so-good months. We have times where we're not playing well, times where we are playing well, but this is just us.
While Lebron may be content with the consistently inconsistent rollercoaster ride that has been the Cavaliers' past few seasons, the team's newest member isn't as accepting. On the team's play, Isaiah commented:
I’ve only played three games. I can’t say I’ve slipped into that. I’m not the type of player or person to do that. I’m still trying to get back in the thick of things, getting my rhythm, get everything back for me individually. But at the same time as a leader, we can’t have lulls. I know everybody says, ‘Well, this happens to this team, and they’ve been to three straight Finals.’ But that’s not acceptable. I’m going to do my part to show these guys it’s not acceptable, and we’ll go from there.
This is an unsurprising take from Isaiah. He's coming from a team that took satisfaction in the amount of effort that they put into each game; a team that prided themselves on their will to win. I mean, Isaiah is a mini-Celtic's legend, and here, I'm not referring to his height, but am looking at his tenure with the team, which was cut short to acquire Kyrie Irving. Thomas had one of the best seasons that any person in green has ever had, and while he won't have his number retired here or be compared to Larry Bird, he's still a player that will be remembered fondly by fans forever. He bought into the Boston sports' culture and embodied what it means to be an athlete from the Bean. He still has that green blood in his veins, and these comments solidify that.
And I think that's exactly what he's trying to bring to Cleveland: a winning attitude to one of the most notoriously losing cities in America. If there's one thing that Isaiah thrives with, it's utilizing the chip on his shoulder to prove people wrong and motivate those around him.
With that being said, I'm not sure it's completely fair of Isaiah to criticize his teammates at this point in the season, for a few different reasons. Firstly, he hasn't been on the court with them thus far, so he can't really pony up and put his money where his mouth is. He can't take any responsibility for their struggles, so at this point, he's basically just talking shit, which may be exactly his intent: trying to light a fire under their asses to rile the boys up so that they'll play harder. Tough love 101.
I'm also wondering how much of a leader he has been for the Cavs so far this season. I haven't heard anything about him like I have about Gordon Hayward, who while injured, has been talking with the young guys on a regular basis and has been a key part in team meetings by studying film and relaying his analysis to the team. All I've seen of Isaiah is him focusing on his rehab and cheering for his team from the sidelines. I'm wondering if now that he's healthy, he's all of sudden deciding to take on the leadership role that he was expected to take when he joined the Cavs. If that's the case, and he's just now showing up as a leader, then I think he's out of line with these comments. Plus, LeBron's on the team, and we all know how he dominates that role with his suffocating expectations. These comments could be Isaiah's attempt to assert himself into that assistant captain, sidekick-type role.
Secondly, Isaiah hasn't been great himself since his return. In the four games that he's played, he's averaged 12.3 points on 35% shooting, 3.3 assists, and 1.3 rebounds per game. He was especially bad in the Cavs recent blowout losses, too. Against the Wolves, he put up 9 points on 3-of-11 shooting and went -20 on the night. It was worse against the Raptors, when he dropped 4 points on 2-of-15 shooting from the field, 0-of-6 from behind the arc, and a -20 +/-. Definitely not the numbers that he was doing last year with the Cs.
Of course, this type of performance is expected from someone who is just returning from a lengthy injury, and someone who is joining a new team with different teammates and strategies. On his gameplay, Isaiah said:
I just have no legs. Like, this is my preseason. I can't do nothing about that. Usually guys have an offseason to prepare and a preseason to prepare as well before you get going with the real games, and I had neither of them. So this is my preseason; I have to figure out ways to get my legs back. On top of me being out seven months, me not playing basketball and just getting back on the team, not just getting back on the Boston Celtics where I've been for three years, but I'm on a totally different team with totally different players in a totally different system. It's going to take time. I got to figure things out. We're not a team that practices a lot, so my figuring out comes in game time.
So, that's the current state of the Cavaliers, who currently sit 6.5 games behind the Celtics. This whole fiasco could just be a classic slump for the streaky Cavs, and when the playoffs arrive, they'll be at full form like always.
While I'd like to see Isaiah succeed with his new team, I'm also perfectly fine with this dysfunctional Cavs team. To be frank, I'd rather Isaiah struggle and the Cavs stink, than for Isaiah and his team to both thrive. Sorry, Isaiah, but we want Banner 18.