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The Brink’s truck never came for Isaiah Thomas.
It had been a little more than a year since the then-Boston Celtics point guard shared that infamous quote at Las Vegas Summer League, announcing to the basketball world that it would cost untold millions for any team to land him in free agency this summer. But then came the hip injury that cut short his postseason and derailed his career, not long after his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, died in a single-car accident, followed by the trade to Cleveland in August and another relocation, this time to Laker Land, in February.
From fringe MVP candidate to fallen star to this: Thomas on Thursday agreed to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal worth $2 million with the Denver Nuggets, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been announced.
Yet while Thomas is no doubt incensed with the way he was treated by the NBA market, he has every reason to be enthused about where he landed — regardless of what he’s being paid. If nothing else, there’s a shared spirit here when it comes to his story and theirs.
Thomas is a proud underdog, the 60th pick in the 2011 draft who outplayed all comers to earn a starting role while playing under former Sacramento Kings coach and current Nuggets coach Mike Malone. Denver has plenty to prove, too, considering they’ve missed the playoffs by a proverbial hair the past two seasons. The status of Thomas’ hip will remain a question until there is a clear answer, but this could be a good basketball fit if his body holds up.
The Nuggets were already an explosive offensive team, with center Nikola Jokic directing traffic last season en route to the sixth-best offensive rating in the league. But Denver traded a capable scorer in Wilson Chandler to Philadelphia earlier this month, part of a sequence of moves that continued on Thursday and allowed the Nuggets to get below the vaunted luxury tax.
By sending Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, a 2019 protected first-round pick and a future second-round pick to Brooklyn in exchange for Isaiah Whitehead, Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly not only cleared the way for Thomas’ deal but saved the franchise approximately $41 million in all (considering the tax payments that were avoided).
If Thomas can return to form, he’ll be a potent addition in a sixth man role behind Denver’s backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, small forward Will Barton (re-signed on a four-year, $54 million deal), four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap, and Jokic. After all, it was just two seasons ago that he was averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists for a Celtics team that was beloved in Boston.
But will Thomas embrace this unwelcome role change? That much remains to be seen.
The two-time All-Star might have told USA TODAY Sports in March that, “I’m no sixth man,” but he has no choice now. Like it or not, this is the car that came.
Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.