CLEVELAND -- When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and draft considerations, they knew it would be a while before Thomas saw game action because of a hip injury.
But after nearly five months of waiting, Thomas will make his debut for the Cavaliers tonight against the Portland Trailblazers at Quicken Loans Arena, and he plans on rewarding the fans for their support throughout the rehabilitation process.
“They've been patient along with me,” Thomas said. “It's been positive -- positive feedback, positive love since I've been here. Ever since I stepped foot in Cleveland, it's been all genuine love, and it's crazy because I haven't played yet.
“I haven't even really put on the jersey, so to continue to get that type of love when I haven't really given the city anything but some workouts on my own, I'm just ready to put the grind forward and give the fans what they want to see, and make this season something special.”
And the support since his arrival in Cleveland has not been limited to the fans, as Thomas has felt the love from his teammates, too.
“I'm a scoring guard and I know how to put the ball in the basket,” Thomas said. “They traded for me for a reason, and that was to play the game that I know how to play, and that's make plays, try to make the right play each and every time down and score the ball.
“Those guys have welcomed me with open arms, and they've always said, even when we were scrimmaging, 'Stop passing. Be you, be aggressive and look to score,' so that always makes you feel comfortable that they want me to be who I am, and that's all I can be.”
An All-NBA performer for the Boston Celtics last season, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Thomas had proven remarkably durable throughout his NBA career until experiencing the hip issue.
Prior to this year, Thomas, who was acquired along with Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder and draft compensation from the Celtics in exchange for Kyrie Irving, had missed more than 10 games only once since his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings.
Because Thomas will be on a minutes restriction against Portland and will not play in back-to-back games until he gets more time on the court, his focus at the outset is to regain the rhythm that allowed him to average a career-best 28.9 points along with 5.9 assists per game for the Celtics last year.
“I have no feel for the game right now,” Thomas said. “I've been out for so long, it feels like I've lost my powers, so even when we're out there scrimmaging, I can move around and do what I want, but I just don't have my powers yet.
“With the games coming, it's got to give me an opportunity to get my rhythm back, get my feel back, and it might take some time, but at the same time, the progress that I've made is all good and positive progress, and I'm excited about the opportunity to be able to get out there and compete.”