CLEVELAND - As Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals drew to a close this past May, LeBron James made a point to seek out Isaiah Thomas.
The Boston Celtics star guard had missed the final three games of the series due to a hip injury. but had already done more than enough to earn The King's respect.
“He’s very special,” James said of Thomas prior to the series. “He’s a special guy, special talent, unique talent."
While saying goodbye to one "special talent," James will now welcome another to Cleveland with the Cavs' acquisition of Thomas -- along with forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick -- in exchange for Kyrie Irving on Tuesday night. And despite the debate that will now ensue regarding what Cleveland should do with that Nets pick, Thomas very much remains the centerpiece of the trade from the Cavs' perspective.
Who is Isaiah Thomas and what can he bring to Cleveland? Let's take a look.
Hey now, you're an All-Star
It's no small deal that in sending out one All-Star point guard, the Cavs acquired another in Thomas.
As noted by ESPN, Irving and Thomas enjoyed similar statistical seasons this past year -- although Thomas did so more efficiently, on a significantly cheaper contract and as the primary offensive option on his team. In addition to adding a second straight All-Star selection to his resume, Thomas earned second-team All-NBA honors for his play in 2017.
While his track record as a top-level talent may not be as lengthy as Irving's, one part of his game that could improve the Cavs right away -- especially when James is on the bench -- is his ability to draw fouls. Last season, Thomas averaged 8.5 free throw attempts per game, while Irving averaged 4.6.
That was a big reason why Thomas finished third in the NBA in scoring -- and first in the Eastern Conference -- with 28.9 points per game last season. According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was seeking to add a "big name guy" in exchange for Irving, a 4-time All-Star.
In acquiring Thomas, it'd be tough to argue Cleveland didn't do just that.
When watching Thomas, some differences from Irving will immediately stand out.
Most notably, about six inches.
Listed at a generous 5-foot-9, Thomas shares the honor of being the shortest active player in the NBA with current Cavs guard Kay Felder. Thomas' height -- or lack thereof -- has been a knock on him dating back to his high school days, when he ranked as the No. 92 overall player and No. 14 point guard in the 2008 recruiting class.
Even after averaging 16.4 points per game in three seasons at Washington, the Tacoma native nearly went overlooked as an NBA prospect, with the Sacramento Kings adding the two-time All-Pac 10 selection with the final pick of the 2011 draft -- the same draft in which the Cavs selected Irving first overall.
In the time since, Thomas has proven his worth -- and then some -- averaging 19.1 points per game over the course of six seasons with the Kings, Phoenix Suns and Celtics.
It's all in the name
As you may have noticed, Thomas shares a name -- although not the same spelling -- with Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas.
That's not a coincidence. As legend has it, Thomas' father, James, chose his son's name after losing a bet that his beloved Los Angeles Lakers would beat Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals.
Per Sports Illustrated:
In 1988 James Thomas, a Los Angeles native who had moved to Tacoma, Wash., bet a close friend that his beloved Lakers would once again beat the Pistons in the NBA Finals. The stakes? The name of James's first son. But on Feb. 7, 1989—months before Isiah Thomas, no relation, would lead Detroit to a sweep of L.A. for the title—a boy arrived, and by then James had warmed to the idea of his very own Isiah. The baby's mother, Tina Baldtrip, agreed to the christening only under one condition: that second, all-important a. "Spelled just like in the Bible," notes Tina, who separated from James when Isaiah was very young. Of course, when her son went to South Kent (Conn.) School for his senior year to polish his grades and his game, hecklers chanted "We hate your dad!" anyway.
Despite the early confusion, it hasn't taken long for Isaiah Thomas to make a name for himself in the NBA.
Tragedy and triumph
Unfortunately, Thomas' breakout 2016-17 season culminated with one of the toughest months of his life, personally.
On April 15, the day before Boston's playoff opener against the Chicago Bulls, Thomas' 22-year-old sister, Chyna, passed away in a tragic car crash. Thomas proceeded to play in every Celtics playoff game until his injured hip would no longer allow him to, scoring 53 points against the Washington Wizards on what would have been Chyna's 23rd birthday.
"At no point was he going to get tired," James said of Thomas' memorable playoff outing. "I just think she was just looking down on him and just giving him any extra motivation, any little touch, any little spring. When you’re on the court that’s your sanctuary and that’s where you can kind of block everything out no matter what you’re going through in your individual life, block everything out because that’s your happy place, and it definitely showed for him in his individual performance.”
Factor in his injured hip -- which Thomas is still recovering from -- as well as Tuesday's trade and it's been a whirlwind few months for one of the league's most recent breakout stars. That whirlwind has now landed him in Cleveland, where he'll have an opportunity to add to his growing legacy and continue what's already been one of the most unique careers in NBA history.
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