CLEVELAND -- Isaiah Thomas just made his Cleveland Cavaliers debut. But the franchise is likely already weighing the All-Star point guard's future.
Thomas, who played the first game of his Cavs career last week, is slated to become a free agent this coming summer. And the former Boston Celtics guard has hardly made it a secret that when he does hit the market, he'll be seeking max money, or at least close to it.
"They know they've got to bring the Brinks truck out," Thomas said with a smile when asked about his impending free agency last July.
A lot, of course, has changed since then. In August, the Celtics sent Thomas to Cleveland as a part of their deal to acquire Kyrie Irving. The 28-year-old proceeded to miss the Cavs' first 36 games of the season as he continued to recover from a torn labrum in his hip suffered during his final season in Boston.
All that, after a 2017 offseason that saw several free agent point guards receive less than expected on the open market. But according to a look at Thomas' upcoming free agency from ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Thomas could still be in line for a top-tier contract -- and if so, it will likely come from his current team.
The Bulls have a budding star in Kris Dunn, the 76ers have Ben Simmons, the Mavericks have Dennis Smith Jr., the Hawks have Dennis Schroder and the Lakers have Lonzo Ball. There are some options: Brooklyn, Phoenix and Indiana are possibilities, for example, though the Suns already traded Thomas once. It's not inviting, even if Thomas had no injury concerns, which he does with possible degenerative hip issues.
This is why Cleveland makes the most sense. They will have his full Bird rights and can pay him. Thomas also has a couple of intangible advantages in getting the Cavs to want to keep him.
According to Windhorst, only aiding the likelihood the Cavs will extend a significant contract offer to Thomas is owner Dan Gilbert's infatuation with the 5-foot-9 point guard. Aside from Thomas being a key piece of the Irving trade, Gilbert has always had a soft spot for underdogs. And there's arguably no bigger underdog in the NBA than Thomas, who has made a career overcoming the odds.
Gilbert, an eternal optimist who aligns himself with risk-takers and appreciates overcoming odds, must like it when he hears Thomas say things like: "My story is my story and it always ends up that where I get the last laugh." If there's an owner in the league who's primed to want to bet on Thomas, it's Gilbert.
If Thomas has a good six months and bonds with the Cavs' fan base, as he did in Boston, he will perhaps recapture some of the leverage that he has lost. This was one of the issues the Celtics were facing. Boston's front office knew there was going to be fan pressure to re-sign the immensely popular Thomas, even if they didn't see him as a true franchise player. That could transfer to Gilbert.
As Windhorst goes on to note, the free agent market may not dictate the Cavs give Thomas as big of a contract as he's seeking. Nevertheless, it's clear the franchise could soon have a conundrum on their hands when it comes to their new star point guard, who has averaged 15.0 points per game and 3.3 assists in his first three game in Cleveland.