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Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Mar 10-17

The Suns sign Isaiah Thomas to a 10-day deal, adding another chapter to his fascinating story

Posted on March 18, 2024


  By Aidin Ebrahimi, SuperWest Sports

It’s a different feeling when your favorite player gets a new opportunity.

Last Saturday night, the Phoenix Suns signed Isaiah Thomas (affectionately known as “IT”) to a 10-day deal, bringing him back in the NBA.

Thomas has always been my favorite basketball player, and his return to the NBA adds yet another chapter to his fascinating story.

As always, I look at the previous week’s best team and MVP at the end, but the rest of this column is about Thomas’ return to the league and how he keeps inspiring millions around the globe.


Turning a Disadvantage to an Advantage
As we all know, Isaiah Thomas didn’t win the genetic lottery. His father was 5-foot-6, the same as his grandfather, and his mother was 5-7.

Thomas always wanted to be a basketball star, and his father famously named him after Isiah Thomas when he lost a bet. So it was almost like he was destined to be an NBA star.

However, his height was always the biggest obstacle in his quest to make it to the league.

In his mom’s basement, there was one machine that was supposed to stretch him out and another machine so he could hang upside down, and he used to tell everyone that he would be 6-foot one day.

But that day would never come, and he had to come to terms with that fact.

Thomas at Washington | Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times

I relate to Thomas in many ways, and this is one of them. He couldn’t choose his height, just as I couldn’t choose where I was born.

A young IT hated his height, and I’ll be honest, I hate living here in Iran, one of the worst countries on earth, a place where I can’t be my true self.

The chances of a 5-9 NCAA D1 college player making the NBA is less than 1%, and I’m willing to bet that the chance of an Iranian making it out and “living the American Dream” is around the same.

But IT never gave up and turned his disadvantage into an advantage, because his height caused everyone to overlook him. And his determination teaches me to do the same.

Everyone in the state of Washington was astonished when they were watching this short high school kid cook everyone, and he kept selling out every arena he played in.

Thomas’ WA jersey was retired in 2018 | Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

He eventually caught the attention of three NBA stars from Washington: Jason Terry and Knicks duo Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson.

They decided to take Isaiah under their wing, with Terry and Crawford telling him “All the things we’re going to do for you, we want you to do the same for the next guy. We want you to carry that torch.”

Robinson also gave Thomas his blessing to wear his No. 2 jersey when he got a scholarship to play for the Washington Huskies.

Thomas had a great career with the Huskies and he declared for the draft after his junior year. He wanted the Lakers to draft him, as they had four picks in the second round.

But as the draft went by, it was becoming more and more apparent that he wouldn’t be a Laker and there was a serious chance that he’d go undrafted.

Luckily, the Kings—the first team he had a workout with—picked him with the final pick of the draft.


Love at First Sight
Thomas was grateful because all he ever wanted was a chance, and it didn’t matter if he was drafted first or last.

He just wanted to get drafted and he would take advantage of that opportunity no matter what. That’s also another lesson he has taught me: “Make the most out of your opportunities.”

IT would become the Kings’ starting PG by the 30th game of the season. His sophomore season was the first time I ever saw him play.

They used to broadcast Hamed Haddadi’s (the only Iranian in NBA history) games here, and my dad and I vividly remember this game, when Haddadi’s Suns took on the Kings right after the Iranian New Year.

Bleacher Report

IT and DeMarcus Cousins just needed three-quarters to destroy the Suns. We instantly fell in love with this 5-9 shifty guard who poured in 23 points and also had eight assists. Eight-year-old me was amazed.

How can this short guy dominate in the land of giants? Thomas continued to shine, finishing with the 17th-highest PPG in the league (20.3) during his third season.

But Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro chose to go after Darren Collison instead of bringing back IT, even though The Kings were +9.4 points per 100 possessions better when Thomas was on the floor.

When asked to reflect on this trade, Thomas said “Anything I did, no matter how I played, it was always something. I knew Sacramento didn’t want me; I just knew.”


Rise to Stardom and More Adversity
Thomas would get traded to the Suns, and the team was eight in the West before they decided to trade him to the Celtics because they panicked.

They feared that a three-guard tandem with Thomas, Eric Bledsoe, and Goran Dragic wouldn’t work out.

When IT was traded to the Celtics, Isiah Thomas called him and said “You guys are a game and a half out of the eighth spot. Take this team to the playoffs.”

Isaiah would do just that, quickly becoming a fan favorite in Boston. We all know what happened next: He would make the All-Star team for the next two years while finishing fifth in MVP voting in 2016-17.

That season, he became the shortest player in NBA history to be included in an All-NBA Team.

Los Angeles Times

IT also became the third player in NBA history to average 28+ PPG and five+ assists per game with a 62%+ true shooting percentage in a season after Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

However, that season would also bring Thomas so much adversity. Thomas found out that his sister had passed away in a car accident just one day before the Celtics’ first-round series against the Bulls.

After winning that series, he had one of the greatest performances in NBA history, scoring 53 points against the Wizards on what would have been his sister’s 23rd birthday.

But the adversity wouldn’t end there, as he would suffer a hip injury against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals—an injury that changed the trajectory of his career forever.


Never Say Die and Carrying the Torch
Despite his days as a star coming to an end, IT never gave up. No matter how many teams gave up on him, he never gave up on himself. It was just like his days as a high schooler in Washington.

The only man who believed in Isaiah Thomas was Isaiah Thomas himself.

But even through all the adversity, Thomas has done what Terry and Crawford asked him to do. He’s carrying the torch for the next generation, and not just for hoopers, but for his kids and everyone in need of a role model.

If you have been knocked down 10,000 times, get up 10,001 times. This has been a constant theme in Thomas’ career and life, and he has always made the most out of every opportunity he’s been given.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’m so glad that the NBA world is rooting for him to succeed now that he’s back in Phoenix. But let me remind you, Isaiah Thomas isn’t a “what if” story.

No one expected him to play D1 college basketball. No one expected him to get drafted and play in the league. No one expected him to become an All-Star.

And even now, no one expected to see him back in the league again after two years as a free agent.

But he’s done all these things and more, because as he puts it himself, “My job is to make people eat their words.” Isaiah Thomas always teaches me to keep working and make the doubters eat their words.


Best Team of Last Week

The Denver Nuggets (47-20, 4-0)

The Nuggets are 11-1 since Nikola Jokic sent the team a motivational text message during the All-Star break.

This reminds me of when Tom Brady sent motivational texts to Buccaneers players before Super Bowl 55, a game where the Bucs won in dominant fashion.

Brady is the football GOAT, but can Jokic insert himself into the basketball GOAT conversation?

If the Nuggets continue winning like this, Jokic can win his third MVP in four years and they can also win their second consecutive NBA championship. And he’s just turned 29, he has so much time left.

Last week, Jokic and Jamal Murray led the way, combining for 49 PPG while they both shot over 50% from the field.

Michael Porter Jr and Aaron Gordon also had efficient weeks, while Christian Braun and Peyton Watson have turned into a very effective bench duo.


MVP of Last Week

Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans)

Zion’s minutes-restriction is finally over, and now he’s back to putting up the truly dominant numbers that we’ve been used to seeing from him.

Williamson

The Pelicans are ready to take advantage of the Clippers’ recent slump and Williamson is ready to play playoff basketball for the first time in his career.

Zion led his squad to a 3-1 record while averaging 30 points and eight rebounds on 65.8% shooting from the floor last week, which included a monster 34-point outing against the Clippers.

Interestingly, he has shot 76.8% from the free-throw line over his last 20 games, which is 7.6% higher than his career average.

This will be huge for the Pelicans in the playoffs if Zion can continue his hot streak from the charity stripe.




—More from Aidin Ebrahimi—