SACRAMENTO — You know what would come in handy for the Cleveland Cavaliers right about now?
An MVP-caliber player, perhaps a point guard who could give them the kind of second-level offense that was so sorely lacking on Wednesday night when the Cavs lost their third game in the last four tries to the Sacramento Kings (109-95) at the Golden1 Center. His name is Isaiah Thomas, if you somehow haven’t heard, and it remains a mystery when he’ll be making his debut for the Cavs (24-11).
But it will be soon — very soon.
Thomas, the former Boston Celtics star who was forced out of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs in May with a hip injury and has yet to return, is highly unlikely to play on Saturday at Utah. From there, the focus would shift to a Jan. 2 home game against Portland and the question of how the Cavs would handle Thomas’ situation if that was, in fact, the big day.
Why? Because the 28-year-old who was so hurt by the Celtics’ late August trade that sent him to the Cavs just so happens to have a reunion game in Boston one night later.
Cue the Avril Lavigne track — it’s complicated, indeed.
Yet it’s worth remembering here that Thomas hasn’t played in an NBA game in more than seven months, meaning his playing time is expected to be limited for his first few games. As such, it remains entirely possible that Thomas could wind up getting his sneakers wet again against Portland only to sit the following night against his former team.
And if that happened, could anyone blame him?
After playing through the pain in last season’s playoffs, only to regret the move later when he realized that it came at such a high cost, the free-agent-to-be has every right to take his time here. It might mean we miss out on the drama that would come with a Kyrie Irving-Thomas duel, but that day could still come when the two teams meet again in Boston on Feb. 11.
No matter when Thomas returns, the Cavs have no doubt that he’ll be a much-needed difference maker. The loss to the Kings was proof positive of that, as James finished with 14 assists and no other player had more than one. James, who hit just six of 17 shots, tied his season-low in scoring with 16 points.
“I think it’ll be good in a lot of ways,” Cavs sharpshooter Kyle Korver told USA TODAY Sports about Thomas, who averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game last season. “You know, sometimes when we get stagnant is when we start depending on ‘Bron too much to create everything, and he can do it, but it’s hard every night for an 82-game season. To have someone else who can share that load of handling the ball and making plays for guys, I think that’ll help us out.”
James’ minutes have been a topic of discussion in NBA circles all season long — most notably when the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green wondered aloud if James’ “super-human” powers might dissipate with that sort of workload. At 32 years old and 15 seasons into his legendary pro career, he’s third in the league in minutes per game (37.4).
Yet even with the Cavs welcome wagon that will await him, there will almost certainly be a getting-to-know-you period for Thomas and his new teammates. While Irving and Thomas are both prolific scorers worthy of playing the Robin role to James’ Batman, they are hardly carbon copies of one another. The differences, as Korver explained, will lead to a few lessons learned along the way.
“(Thomas is) great off of dribble-handoff actions and pick and roll actions, so it’ll be another threat for us (to have) another ball handler, something else (the opponent has) to game plan for,” Korver continued. “Another playmaker, you know? He’s shown he can do it at a super high level, and on nights like tonight when it’s not really flowing for us, to have someone else who can obviously take over a game is always welcome.”