INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Speaking to reporters for the first time in a week — which spanned an explosive team meeting, a lopsided loss to the San Antonio Spurs, an underwhelming win over the Indiana Pacers that included a questionable exchange with Kevin Love and an 8-for-22 personal shooting total — Isaiah Thomas explained himself: He says he is shouldering an undue amount of blame for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles.
“We’ve been a lowest five [rated] defensive team in the NBA the whole time [this season],” Thomas said after practice Saturday. “So when I come back, it’s my fault now. Which, life isn’t fair, but that’s not fair, bro. At all. I just laugh at those things because I know in this circle and this team, everybody believes in each other, and everybody’s in here for it to work and for us to be playing in June. That’s the ultimate goal.”
If he is to be believed, and everyone on the team believes in one another, that would include Thomas and Love.
Thomas said the various reports detailing Monday’s team meeting as having been instigated in part by him criticizing Love for missing most of Cleveland’s 148-124 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder with an illness, and then exiting the arena early and missing practice the following day, were inaccurate.
“To be real, I didn’t call him out,” Thomas said of Love. “I asked him why wasn’t he at the game during the game supporting his teammates. And then after the game, I didn’t [get to] ask him because he wasn’t there. So I was seeing where he was. So I didn’t call him out any. So those reports that whoever is saying that, there’s no bad blood between me and him. We go back to fifth and sixth grade [as AAU teammates]. I asked him a question where he was, and it was never clarified. And that’s all it was. …
“Whoever reported that it was, and we was bashing Kevin Love, there was nothing to bash him about. We just wanted to know where he was and why he didn’t play.”
Thomas said the meeting didn’t address the more important issues facing the Cavaliers.
“It’s bigger than what we talked about on Monday. It’s bigger than that,” he said. “Like, we got to be a better defensive team. We got to not be stagnant on offense in the fourth quarter. We got to do those type of things to be a better team overall. I don’t think that talk had anything to make us better.”
Thomas was also asked about Love delivering him a pass off a defensive rebound early in the Pacers game, when the 6-foot-9 Love bent down to present the ball to the 5-9 Thomas in an exaggerated fashion — not unlike a parent bending down to give a gift to a child sitting by the tree on Christmas morning.
A team source suggested to ESPN that it was a clear sign of Love trying to embarrass Thomas in the aftermath of the meeting.
The Cavaliers have gone 4-5 in January when Isaiah Thomas plays.
“Did you see I was smiling right after? Did you see that part?” Thomas said of the exchange. “Like, there’s nothing between me and Kevin Love. At all. I approached him about his situation, and it went out of house like it shouldn’t have been, but it was not nothing bigger than what the world was trying to make it — like some type of beef between me and him. It’s never been that, and I’ve never been that guy to do that. So to clear all that false whatever, whatever everybody is writing up. That’s not cool at all.”
What has been chilly is Thomas’ shooting percentage. After going 13-for-25 (52 percent) in his first two games back, he is 35-for-98 (35.7 percent) in the seven games he’s played since.
“We’ve been a lowest five [rated] defensive team in the NBA the whole time [this season]. So when I come back, it’s my fault now. Which, life isn’t fair, but that’s not fair, bro. At all.”
Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas
Asked if anyone within the organization has questioned his shot selection to him, the two-time All-Star countered by asking the reporter who had been targeting his play behind his back.
“If they’re worried about my shot selection, they must not have seen me play the last few years,” Thomas said. “That’s all I can say about that. If somebody’s worried about that, what did you trade me here for? To not shoot? To not find my rhythm? To not be Isaiah Thomas? I can’t be anybody else. So whoever’s saying that, I don’t know what I’m here for if I’m not here to score the ball and make plays after being off seven months.”
Thomas said patience will be required as he continues to fight back from a torn labrum in his right hip.
“I mean, [I am not playing] as well as I want to right now, but it’s going to take time,” he said. “Like, I’m in a whole new situation. I’m used to having the ball every play. I’m used to making most of the plays. So I got to figure out and this team has to figure out how we can use each other’s strengths and use that as a positive. And it’s going to work out. It just takes some time. And I’m not back to who I am.”
Thomas said there hasn’t been any discussion of moving him to a backup role, calling the idea “disrespectful.” Coach Tyronn Lue also shot down the notion, replying with a curt, “No.”
The Cavs are 4-7 in January since Thomas’ return and 4-5 when he plays. Thomas sat out in two back-to-back situations.
“I mean, I’m not panicking,” Thomas said. “I don’t think anybody in this locker room is panicking, but the people outside this locker room. Which is fine, they’re entitled to their own opinion. But one thing about me, I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to keep grinding. And it will work. At the end of the day, it will work and I’m [going to] figure out how to use my strengths with this team and vice versa.”