Tag Archives: isaiah thomas

Drafts and trades v transfers

When Neymar joined Paris St-Germain from Barcelona in the summer for just less than £200m, it was reported his annual salary would be approximately £28m.

PSG paid out plenty to secure an established world-class talent, but in America, pro sports franchises pay top dollar to sign rookie players straight out of college.

Markelle Fultz of the Washington Huskies university team was the number one pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

He will earn a maximum of $33,727,701 over the course his first contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, including $15,366,120 guaranteed during his first two years.

All that cash for a promising talent who only played one season for the Huskies and may not have what it takes to become a consistent elite-level performer in the NBA.

Welcome to the world of US sport, where money is spent on wages, not transfer fees.

Drafting talent

It’s a strangely egalitarian world, too, given the rampant capitalism which characterises most other walks of American life.

In the NBA and NFL draft system, for example, the previous season’s bottom team get first pick of the potential superstars produced by the US college system.

In reality, teams often trade early picks for more in later rounds of the draft. But in theory, the very best player could join the very worst franchise (according to last season’s standings).

It’s all about balance and trying to avoid one team dominating for years on end, but the other key thing to note is money – as in player transfers – is simply not a factor.

The draft system, in which (technically) amateur athletes join professional teams, sees most of those millions of dollars invested in player contracts and salaries.

The same goes for trades between clubs for established players. Cash rarely changes hands; it’s all about swapping one talent for another (or in some cases several others).

 Level playing field

The biggest trade of the NBA off-season saw Isaiah Thomas signed by Cleveland from Boston, with Kyrie Irving going in the opposite direction (much to his displeasure).

Boston reportedly agreed to give Cleveland a second-round pick in the 2020 draft to seal the deal. Thomas remained on a $30m-a-year deal, with Irving keeping his $20m annual salary.

In football, such exchanges are extremely rare, and even when they do happen usually involve player+cash (or more likely cash+makeweight player).

And any highly-prized footballer in the prime of his career would be looking for a salary upgrade when agreeing to be transferred – and possibly a bonus for signing in the first place.

Supporters of the American system argue it does its job by keeping the playing field relatively level in terms of team strength – although there will still be ‘dynasty’ franchises that rule the roost for several seasons.

The Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers have both dominated in the NBA in recent decades, while the NFL’s New England Patriots have won five Super Bowls since 2001.

Education

Proponents of the draft system also claim it encourages young players to get a college education as they seek a career in professional sports. For every player who ‘makes it’, dozens fall by the wayside, and others who join the pro ranks find their careers are short-lived.

‘When they are released – as the vast majority are – they are ill-equipped to cope with life outside of football’

So gaining a degree, the argument goes, gives those individuals an alternative career to pursue if their dream of playing professionally fails to become a reality.

In truth, the pressure is on young players to turn pro as soon as possible – and maximise their earning potential.

In recognition of this, the NBA now stipulates that they only have to wait a year before becoming eligible for the draft – and don’t even have to attend college in that period.

LeBron James, arguably the game’s biggest star, joined his hometown team Cleveland in the 2003 draft without spending anytime at university.

Released

Footballers are often part of the youth set-up at a professional club from a very young age and work their way through its age-group teams until – if they are one of the chosen few – they are offered a professional contract. More often, they are devastated to find they are not being offered one.

Although education is a mandatory part of their life as young players, critics claim being involved with clubs from early childhood encourages unrealistic expectations that they are already on the path to success, fame and riches, leading them to effectively switch off from gaining qualifications.

So when they are released – as the vast majority are – they are ill-equipped to cope with life outside of football, and many are at risk of mental health problems or going off the rails.

When it comes to young players being transferred for vast sums of money, the pressure on them to justify their new club’s outlay is immense – and sometimes damaging to their career.

Pros and cons

So which system works best overall?

In theory, football’s transfer system rewards clubs for developing young talent, or getting the best out of players.

‘Since the Premier League was launched in the 1992-93 season, it has been won by just six teams’

For smaller ones, selling players to bigger clubs offers a lifeline that may be the difference between financial stability and going out of business.

The risk – and reality – is that the very best players tend to end up at the biggest, best-supported and wealthiest clubs, and those clubs form a self-perpetuating elite which tend to win all the titles and trophies.

Is it that different in the US? In the NBA, only five teams have won more than three championships since the league began in 1947. On the other hand, those five account for 70% of the titles, with the Boston Celtics leading the way with 17, closely followed by the Lakers on 16.

However, eight different teams have won the NBA since 2000. In the NFL, the title has been secured by 12 different franchises since the turn of the century.

Since the Premier League was launched in the 1992-93 season, it has been won by just six teams.

So maybe there’s something in the thinking behind the US system after all…

Trade adds edge to Celtics-Cavs rivalry as NBA season begins

When the NBA season gets underway early on Wednesday morning (UK time), it will do so with a genuine blockbuster.

A repeat of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals would have been an entertaining spectacle under any circumstances, but after an unprecedented trade that sent the disgruntled Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston in exchange for fellow All-Star Isaiah Thomas, there now exists that crucial ingredient to any stand-out rivalry: bad blood.

In a league where it has become commonplace, perhaps to the detriment of the NBA as a whole, for superstar players to join forces in an attempt to maximise their chances of glory, Irving’s decision to request a trade away from the Cleveland Cavaliers should be respected.

Ever since LeBron James returned to his hometown team in 2014, Irving has had the easy life.

James remains the best player in the NBA, and his unselfish playing style and likeable personality have drawn an outstanding ensemble cast to the Cavaliers, resulting in three back-to-back trips to the NBA finals, with an NBA Championship coming in 2016.

Ambition

But all of the success left Irving feeling somewhat marginalised. Drafted by the Cavaliers in 2011, he spent his early NBA career as the unquestioned leader and star of the team, before being firmly pushed into a number two role upon ‘King’ James’ triumphant return.

And so Irving chose to cast off on his own, saying publicly it was his best chance to develop as a player.

“It was my time to do what was best for me in terms of my intentions, and that’s going after something bigger than myself and being in an environment that was conducive to my potential,” he said.

“Now [I’m] taking that next steps as a 25-year-old evolving man and being the best basketball player I can be.”

But despite it being refreshing to see a player in Irving’s position want to lead his own team, it would be a stretch to call the news of his trade request truly shocking. The real surprise was his destination.

Loyalty

‘I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for. Loyalty – it’s just a word’

Isaiah Thomas has always been the underdog. Whereas Irving was the prized #1 draft pick when he entered the league in 2011, the 5ft 9in (yes, really) Thomas was taken with the 60th and final pick by the Sacramento Kings.

Seen by most as a talented player without the physical profile to ever grind out his place in the land of giants that is the NBA, Thomas has improved his game by leaps and bounds each season. He has defied the perceived limits of his diminutive frame to average a remarkable 29 points per game for the Celtics in the 2016-17, a tally good enough for 3rd highest in the league.

The 28-year-old point guard has always worn his emotions on his sleeve, and that passion resonated strongly with the hardcore Boston fanbase.

That connection between player and franchise has rarely ever seen a better example than April of this year, when Thomas’ sister Chyna tragically died in a car accident just one day before the start of the Celtics’ play-off series against the Chicago Bulls.

Thomas chose to suit up and play that very next day, and despite being visibly emotional throughout, managed to lead the Celtics to a 4-2 series win against the Bulls, eventually falling short against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Injury

But in the often cold, analytics-driven world of the NBA, loyalty between player and franchise can often be a one-way street. When Irving, a younger player on a longer contract, became available, Thomas was the key asset in the Boston offer that persuaded Cleveland to do business.

Thomas, never one to disguise his feelings, has since voiced his thoughts on the trade.

“That s**t hurt. It hurt a lot… I get it: this is a business. Danny [Ainge, Celtics general manager] is a businessman, and he made a business move. I don’t agree with it, just personally, and I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade.

“I think my trade can show people. I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for. Loyalty – it’s just a word.”

Unfortunately, Thomas is unlikely to play in the season-opener due to a nagging hip injury that many feel was a key factor in Boston’s decision to trade him.

But with Irving’s immediate return to his old stomping ground will serve as the perfect introduction to what is sure to be one of the most dramatic NBA seasons in memory.

Elephant Sport’s NBA Quarterly Report – Pt. 3

As we home in on the final months of the season, it’s clear that this NBA campaign has been one of sheer unpredictability. Perhaps not at the top of either the Western or Eastern conferences, but certainly elsewhere.

The trade deadline saw one of the biggest moves in recent memory, while other teams reinforced smartly ahead of the play-offs.

Without further ado…

Best Team: Boston Celtics

It’s bewildering how far the Celtics have come in such a short period of time.

At the start of the season, they were struggling to find consistency with Isaiah Thomas’ brilliance being tossed away by under-performing team-mates.

At this point, the Celtics are the best team in the NBA, not just a surprise package.

They are the only team that can step to the Cleveland Cavaliers in both the regular season, and the play-offs. They have offered the Eastern Conference, as well as neutrals, the hope of an upset in the road to the Finals.

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Little Isaiah floats a shot against 7ft Marcin Gortat

Thomas’ electrifying form is infectious, and has clearly spread to those around him.

Jae Crowder looks a man possessed, while Jaylen Brown is making a case for being one of the standout performers in his age-bracket.

Coach Brad Stevens has yet to manage a play-off game, so it will be interesting to see how his youthfulness and hunger translates to the biggest stage.

As of right now, his progression has been impeccable. Not only has he got the Celtics in 2nd place, two wins behind the Cavs, but he already has an All-Star game under his belt.

GM Danny Ainge’s reluctance to make a trade at the deadline could hurt this team in the play-offs, especially since their interior defence is non-existent.

But the percentages they are currently shooting at could see them blow out any team on any given day.

Worst Team: Brooklyn Nets

One has to wonder if copy and pasting part two of this quarterly report would suffice in this section. But, somehow, the Nets have worsened.

Not only did they make no significant push at the trade deadline, they allowed 3-point shooting maverick Bojan Bogdanovic to move to Washington for next-to-nothing.

Without a shooting presence, and an underperforming Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez, the Nets look nailed on for one of the worst NBA season records of all-time.

They were 8-33 when the previous report was written. 21 games later, they have only won two more. And only three of their wins have come in their own conference.

The Nets look a dishevelled franchise. Broken, unfixable and unwatchable. New York has become devoid of any team worth shouting over.

Most Improved Team: Washington Wizards

Not only are the Wizards the most improved team, they’re undoubtedly the most entertaining.

A backcourt comprised of John Wall and Bradley Beal has become one of the most talked about partnerships this season. Electrifying and productive in the clutch, these two have a genuine chance at making the conference finals this year.

Thunder at Wizards 2/1/14
John Wall prepares to shoot a free-throw

They’re third in the conference, boasting 17 wins in their last 23 games. In the first quarterly report, we had them down as one of the most disappointing teams.

Right now, they look unstoppable. Whether that be going toe-to-toe with the Warriors and beating them, or taking the Cavs to overtime, the Wizards look like the real deal.

Wall is posting up career highs in points, assists and 3pt percentages. Likewise, Beal. Around them is a team made up of hot shooters and workhorses.

Otto Porter Jr. has the best 3pt shooting percentages in the entire league – yes, higher than Steph Curry and James Harden.

Kelly Oubre Jr. looks to be developing into a future star of this league, meanwhile Markief Morris is doing all the dirty work at both ends.

With the smart acquisition of Bogdanovic at the deadline, the Wizards have become even more of a sharpshooting team. This could be the key to any play-off upset.

Most Improved Player: Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic has gone from the typical brutish European centre to a player of immense, unplayable quality. He’s posted up multiple triple-doubles in the last 20 games, driving the Denver Nuggets from mediocrity to a near-lock for that 8th place play-off position.

He’s one of the league leaders in assists, and one of the most proficient passers around. A playmaking maverick, a rebounding machine and a point-hoarder, Jokic is utterly phenomenal.

Despite his bulk and height, he moves elegantly and to a level that we have never seen in the NBA. If there’s one player who deserves this award at the end of the season, it’s Jokic. From complete unknown to one of the hottest names around.

Best Trade: DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans Pelicans

I wanted to avoid the blockbuster move as much as I could, since I feel as though Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker to the Toronto Raptors is the move that most improves a team and equips them best for a play-off push.

But it’s DeMarcus Cousins. Moving away from the team where he’s spent his entire career and joining former college team-mate Anthony Davis.

This move was mind-blowing for the NBA. Not only do the Pelicans now have the two best big-men in the league, they undoubtedly have all the potential in the world to bring a ring to New Orleans.

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DeMarcus and Davis, reunited

Rebounding has long been an issue for Championship winners in the past; with the Warriors for example it’s been their Achilles heel this year.

The Rockets have the same problem; the Cavs sometimes struggle… the list goes on.

The Pelicans not only succeed in that area, they thrive and feed off it. Second-chance points are their best friend. If they can sneak into the play-offs this year, expect this blockbuster trade to upset the biggest of teams.

If not, they’re set to be the most anticipated team to watch for next season.

If they can acquire the right pieces to place around this titanic, unplayable frontcourt, they’re legitimate contenders next season.

Surprise Package: Miami Heat

The Miami Heat traded off Dwayne Wade in the summer, effectively leaving their team devoid of star quality. But the players who were nothing more than good, have now become great.

Heat at Wizards 11/19/16
Hassan Whiteside contests a call

After a shoddy start to the season, where they were rooted to the bottom of the conference for 30 straight games, the Heat are now one win from a play-off spot.

How they achieved such a feat is tough to explain. They registered a 13-game win streak – the longest we’ve seen this season from any team – including victories over the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers.

 

With the hustle, rebounding and blocking of Hassan Whiteside, the Heat are always a scrappy team to play against.

They’re physical and rough, with emphasis placed on bullying opposition teams off the court.

But, beyond that physicality, is a gorgeous style of play within their ball movement.

Players like Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters are facilitators of the highest order, creating space on the court, knocking down 3’s from improbable range and finding Whiteside in the paint for easy points.

This trio have brutalised opposition and dragged the Heat from misery to magnificence. It will be interesting to see how this young, untested team can cope in the play-offs, if they make it.

Offensive Play of the 3rd quarter:

Watch as LeBron James forces an entertaining game vs the Wizards into overtime with one of the craziest shots we’ve seen all season:

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Defensive Play of the 3rd quarter: 

LeBron’s so good, he becomes the first player in our reports to be awarded offensive and defensive play in the same quarter. This chasedown block on Courtney Lee is stunning:

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Review – Book of Isaiah

Picture being 5’9” in a sport where the average man towers over you with a seven-inch advantage. Now picture being one of the best players in your position, despite that height differential. That’s Isaiah Thomas. 

‘Book of Isaiah’ is a documentary that gives a voice to the Boston Celtics’ elite point guard who this season has averaged NBA career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals.

For a player of his size, Thomas’ average of three rebounds per game is staggering. Even a glance at his 26 points per game, in a sport where the man guarding him is always a stronger and more imposing physical specimen, is bewildering.

But this is a testament to the man nicknamed the Conductor’s hard work and growing appreciation for the game – something this documentary explores effortlessly.

The start

One of the most regularly searched things on Google regarding the 27-year-old is: ‘Are Isaiah Thomas and Isaiah Thomas related?’ For the uninitiated, this documentary – right from the get-go – answers this question once and for all.

While the Celtics’ point-guard isn’t related to the hall-of-fame Detroit Pistons guard, it is revealed that Thomas’ father named him after the legend due to losing a bet with a friend.

Perhaps, as the film suggests, Thomas was always destined for success in the NBA – regardless of his height.

In school, Isaiah was often the smallest kid on the court. In college, the smallest on the team. Now in the entirety of the NBA? He’s the smallest in the league.

Humble beginnings

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Thomas (right) and his childhood hero Allen Iverson

Some stock footage of Thomas’ college years is inserted into the second act of the documentary, which helps to establish the chip on the shoulder of this outrageously gifted guard.

It’s easy to see him dominate in the NBA and just accept it; but true appreciation grows when one sees his humble beginnings and how he has always been at a disadvantage in any tier of basketball.

“I just want to be the modern-day Allen Iverson,” Thomas states. Hall of Famer Iverson is someone that Thomas admired when growing up, particularly in his formative years as a college superstar.

This is due to the fact that Iverson, in his day, was also the smallest guy in the league. But he was also one of the most mercurial point guards, inventing various dribbling moves to size-up his towering opponents.

In that regard, Thomas is the same. When you spend all game struggling to see the basket over the man guarding you, you have to develop special moves to give you some sort of an advantage.

Development

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before,” says Celtics coach Brad Stevens in ‘The Book of Isaiah’.

The images support that quote, too. The documentary is shot and promoted as a quasi-motivational video. Scored by a collection of Thomas’ favourite hip-hop tracks, most of the runtime is dedicated to 27-year-old just straight-up training.

In said training, his handles are revealed. Some of the moves that Thomas pulls off are mindblowing, purely because they are born from the need to succeed in a sport where his height should see him rejected immediately.

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before.”

At one point, assistant coach Jay Larranaga says: “First in the gym? Isaiah. Last in the gym? Isaiah! Last year he called me on Christmas day to come and watch him practice his core.”

Technical 

By allowing Thomas and those around him to almost dictate the story on camera, ‘Book of Isaiah’ becomes a documentary that is held back by a lack of insight. It feels more as though a piece of work that announces Thomas’ hard-working nature, rather than one that relentlessly focuses on why he’s had to work hard.

There are sporadic mentions of his struggles, but these are more visual aids than anything spoken to camera.

This is frustrating since anyone familiar with the point guard’s life knows that he struggled to find a college team due to his size, or even the fact that he was the 60th pick in round 2 of the 2011 NBA Draft – again, a downside to his height.

As a side note, that was the final pick of the draft. Essentially, the league had told Thomas he was the worst player out of a possible 90 candidates.

Thomas is now one of the top five point guards in the league. Those above him have a solid five inches extra of height to work with. The fact that this is sporadically explored makes ‘Book of Isaiah’ a disappointing watch for those looking to learn about his struggles.

Verdict

What grows throughout the runtime of Book of Isaiah is a genuine admiration for the Celtics’ point-guard.isaiah

Regardless of the fact that it is a self-loving and clearly biased documentary that focuses not on negatives, it is still incredibly inspirational.

A true testament to the fact that physical difference shouldn’t matter if one works hard enough and develops ways around their size.

If one is looking for an insight into the psyche of a hardworking man with a clear chip on his shoulder, then ‘Book of Isaiah’ is a must-watch.

Otherwise, you have to be pretty crazy about basketball – or the man himself – to wholeheartedly enjoy it.

Encouragement

Iverson called up Thomas after the documentary ended and, allegedly, spoke just one sentence to the guy who has idolised him his entire life: “Keep doing your thing. I’m watching.”

Except now the entire NBA is watching. Thomas could very well, if he keeps these numbers up, enter the all-star team for the first time in his career. He would be the second smallest player of all-time to do so behind Muggsy Bogues.

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A brief showing of Thomas’ aforementioned handles and how exactly he manages to dominate in a sport where he is always at a disadvantage