“The biggest thing for me in signing with a team this summer was all about getting a legit opportunity to show that I can still play and play at a high level,” Thomas told reporters Tuesday night during halftime of the Wizards’ 90-72 summer league loss to the Clippers. “And then — which is not great — with John [Wall] being out most of the year, it gives me an opportunity to come in and play right away. When I met with the Wizards last week, it was like they really wanted me and it was like a genuine want.”
Wearing a black hat emblazoned with his logo of “IT,” the 5-foot-9 guard retraced his recent past as a rehabilitating player. During his last healthy season, Thomas averaged 28.9 points and led the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals before the injury forced him to the sideline. By the summer of 2017, Boston traded Thomas to Cleveland, the beginning of a rocky path that took him to two other cities in less than a year. Near the end of the 2017-18 season, Thomas underwent hip surgery. He sat out most of this past season, with the Denver Nuggets, as he recovered.
Thomas said he has felt normal since February, when he returned to the court with Denver. He appeared in only 12 games for the Nuggets. .
“I’m feeling great. I’m back to feeling like my old self,” Thomas said. “I’ve been healthy for a while. This is the first summer in two years where I can really work on my body and work on my game. If you let that sink in, that sounds crazy.
“I can’t thank [the Nuggets] enough for allowing me to take my time and really not rushing anything and making sure that when I do come back, I was 100 percent. The thing with Denver, the opportunity just wasn’t there. As a team, they played really well. Guys, I feel like, played better than what was expected, and I mean, I didn’t want to mess up the success that they were having.”
Thomas also showed no bitterness toward Boston when he was asked about his final season with the team. The term “load management” has become an NBA trend, especially as it relates to how the Toronto Raptors handled Kawhi Leonard during his one-year stay. Thomas started 76 games in 2016-17 when, in retrospect, the best route might have been more rest.
Asked whether he felt that he “took a bullet” for other NBA players who observed his situation two years ago, Thomas agreed. He seemed to be on the precipice of a big deal, but it never came because of an injury he chose to play through.
“People not playing to get their max deals, I took a bullet for sure, but that was the decision that was made at that point in time,” said Thomas, who also indicated that he made the choice to play and use basketball as a healing mechanism after his sister’s death early in that playoff run. “I feel like the Kawhi Leonard thing, he sat out for a reason. He’s seen my situation — I’m for sure he’s seen it — and the list goes on. But the load management, I think is smart for players. We play a lot of games, we battle against the best players in the world, so I think players now are looking out for themselves more importantly than the team looking out for them.”
Whether the Wizards plan to manage Thomas’s minutes next season remains to be seen. But on Tuesday, Thomas sounded like a player ready to start the season and play with a purpose.
“I want to have the opportunity to compete, have the opportunity to play and show that I can still play at a high level and then, at the same time, be around a good group of guys,” Thomas said. “I’m just happy that somebody that’s on the path with me together to show people that I can still play at a high level."