It’s time to sign I.T.

Isiah Thomas
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“Heart over height.” In a sport where height and athleticism are usually the biggest determinants of success, it is easy for smaller players to resonate with this saying. Look no further than Isaiah Thomas, a player who has embodied this statement throughout his basketball career. Being one of the few active players under 6’ and the last pick in his draft, Thomas has already carved out a very solid career and far exceeded expectations.

Yet, Thomas is currently a free agent. Although he has been hampered by injuries over the years and isn’t getting any younger, there are still reasons to sign him: He has proven that he’s still a very capable scorer, and he has plenty of playoff experience. Thomas has also shared that he underwent a procedure to resurface his right hip, claiming that “there’s no more pain,” and he has his “full range of motion.” Thomas added that he “was trying to play the best players in the world on one leg” for three years. Even with a bad hip, Thomas averaged 12.2 points per game and 3.7 assists per game, while shooting a respectable 41.3% from three this past season. Although these numbers pale in comparison to his 2016-17 headlining campaign, he won’t be asked to be the No. 1 scoring option, as teams will slot him as a backup point guard at best.

The potential benefits of signing Thomas far outweigh the negatives, as teams have more than enough leverage to sign him to a one-year deal for somewhere in the range of the veteran minimum. If teams want to play it safe, they should look to give Thomas a contract similar to that of Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony, in which the salary is not guaranteed until a certain point in the season that the teams choose. Here are some potential suitors for Thomas’ services next season.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have reason to be optimistic about their future: They have one of the best young cores in the NBA and likely would have made the playoffs had Jaren Jackson Jr. not gotten injured. With that said, Jackson’s injury exposed one of the Grizzlies’ biggest weaknesses: the lack of a reliable scorer outside of Ja Morant. The team could use a backup point guard behind Morant, as its two other options are Justise Winslow and De’Anthony Melton. Also, if you forgot, Memphis isn’t a free agent hot spot. Winslow performed poorly when slotted at point guard in both Miami and Memphis. Melton simply did not perform as well as an injured Thomas did last season in nearly every statistical category.

Furthermore, the Grizzlies are in dire need of veteran leadership, as they were the youngest team in the NBA this past season. Thomas would undoubtedly fill both of these voids, as he can provide a scoring punch when Morant is on the bench and offer this team some much-needed guidance as a locker room presence. Thomas would be an excellent sounding board for younger players, having seen a lot in his career. He has played for seven teams and went from the last pick in the draft to a two-time NBA All-Star and legitimate MVP candidate. He has also played for both lottery teams and championship contenders and has served as both starter and sixth man. The Grizzlies will certainly be playoff contenders in the West this upcoming season, and Thomas’ scoring abilities and mentorship could help jump-start their ascent.

Golden State Warriors

Although the Warriors and Grizzlies will likely have very different trajectories next season, Thomas would play a similar role in the Bay Area as he would in Memphis. The Warriors lack another reliable ballhandler besides Stephen Curry, with Ky Bowman listed as the only other active point guard. Although Bowman did have his moments, he only managed to average 7.4 ppg, 30.8% from three and 41.7% from the field. On his bad hip, Thomas outperformed Bowman in nearly all statistical categories. If the Warriors want to seriously compete for a championship next season, they will undoubtedly need more depth at the backup point guard position.

Regardless of whether or not the Warriors are championship contenders, they will almost certainly be in the playoffs next season, barring injuries, and Thomas has shown time and time again that he is not afraid of the big moment. Thomas has also expressed a willingness to come off the bench for the Warriors, and he would hardly make a dent in the cap space.

Although Thomas is a defensive liability, the Warriors have plenty of dynamic players who can compensate for his lack of defense, including Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and (at times) Andrew Wiggins. Furthermore, Thomas’ defense shouldn’t be a huge issue because he wouldn’t be asked to play huge minutes, and his potential offensive firepower far makes up for his below-average defense. If worst comes to worst, the Warriors can allocate ball-handling duties to Jordan Poole or Damion Lee momentarily, sign another player or play Curry slightly longer (he’s had plenty of rest). There are ways around it, but Thomas could be the extra punch that helps sustain the Warriors’ title aspirations.

Justin Kim writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].