Nothing has ever come easy for Isaiah Thomas as it pertains to basketball.
Since entering the NBA as the last pick — No. 60 overall — in the 2011 draft, the former Washington Huskies star has experienced just about every possible situation while bouncing around the league.
Early in his career, he was overlooked in Sacramento and underappreciated in Phoenix.
And in Boston, the 5-foot-9 point guard unexpectedly became a modern-day folk hero who overcame impossible odds and conquered a game filled with giants before ultimately being discarded due to a potentially career-threatening hip injury.
Still, the diminutive fan favorite and beloved underdog who goes by the moniker IT, has been relentless in his pursuit to regain what was lost and return to the court healthy and just as lethal as he was during the 2016-17 season when he averaged 28.9 points and finished fifth in the NBA MVP voting.
“I know I can play at a high level given the opportunity,” Thomas said Tuesday during a Zoom call. “This is just another chapter in my career.”
If the past is prelude, then the latest passage in the book of Isaiah is sure to be spellbinding as Thomas signed a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans and played 25 minutes in Tuesday’s 123-107 loss at Atlanta. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting after going 3 of 5 in the first half. He also had two rebounds and two assists with four turnovers.
Unlike his short, post-injury layovers with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards, this is the first time Thomas has been pain free.
“I’m 102 percent,” he said. “I’m more than good. This is the best I’ve ever felt since before I got injured. It’s not even a question anymore. Every day, I wake up with a smile on my face because honestly I never thought I would feel this good again and feel back to normal. Physically, I’m ready. Mentally, I’m ready and I’m just happy to be here.”
Given Thomas’ age (32) and a 14-month layoff — his previous game was Feb. 3, 2020 — New Orleans is quite possibly the last chance for the former two-time All-Star to resurrect a once-promising career.
In February, Thomas helped lead USA Basketball to two victories in a qualifying tournament for the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup while compiling 28 points and shooting 50% from three-point range (6 of 12) over his two games.
“The opportunity to play for Team USA was everything,” Thomas said. “Obviously, wearing USA on your chest, but also the bigger picture was for everybody to see me moving and being myself again.“I accomplished what I set forth going out there to do. Four-five teams were calling after that and very interested. Luckily, New Orleans pulled the trigger and I’m here. USA, those games were helpful for me and it gave me the opportunity to show that I can still play at a high level, that I’m moving like myself and everything is fine again.”
Aside from his scoring, Thomas, who returns the court wearing No. 24, which an homage to Lakers great Kobe Bryant, believes he can be a veteran leader on and off the court to a young Pelicans team in which 12 of 16 players are 26 years or younger.
“I’m real familiar with the system and the guys that are part of this organization,” Thomas said. “I’m willing to help in any way possible. Like I said, I can do so many things other than put the ball in the basket. My experience speaks for itself being in every situation possible whether it’s being the man (or) getting DNPs, not playing and being at the end of the bench.
“I’m willing to help the younger guys and hopefully make a push to the playoffs.”