NBA 2020-21: Isaiah Thomas will play for Team USA this weekend in a pair of FIBA AmeriCup qualifying games. There was a day last spring when Isaiah Thomas noticed he could lift his leg without any pain. Now he wishes to make a return to the NBA.
More than a year removed from his last NBA appearance, and nine months after surgery that he says fixed a bone-on-bone condition in his right hip, Thomas has games to play.
The two-time All-Star is suiting up with USA Basketball for a pair of FIBA AmeriCup qualifying games in San Juan, Puerto Rico — and Thomas expects NBA teams to be watching.
“My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA as soon as possible,” Thomas, 32, told The Associated Press. “This allows me to compete against other professionals, represent my country at the same time — which is an honor and a privilege — and ultimately show NBA teams that I’m back to myself and I’m 100% healthy. That’s why I chose to come here. When Team USA brought it to me, it was a no-brainer.”
The games technically don’t mean much to the U.S.; the Americans already have qualified for the AmeriCup tournament that will take place in September 2022. But to Thomas, the matchups against the Bahamas on Friday and Mexico on Saturday mean plenty.
Officially @AmeriCup Qualifiers game week 🙌
2.19 vs 🇧🇸 | 4:30 PM ET | ESPN+
2.20 vs 🇲🇽 | 5 PM ET | ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/OJ6ckZyv00
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) February 16, 2021
“My skill didn’t go anywhere,” Thomas said. “The biggest question was whether I am 100% healthy. I am now, so why not show it on a stage with ‘USA’ across your chest?”
When did Thomas play for U.S.A last time?
Thomas is part of a U.S. roster loaded with NBA veterans for these two qualifying games. Joe Johnson is on the team, as is Brandon Bass, and there are five more players besides Thomas with some degree of experience within the league.
Typically, U.S. rosters for these qualifying games are almost entirely composed of G League players, names that aren’t exactly of the household variety. The NBA names add tons of intrigue, as does Thomas’ return to game action.
“Isaiah, he’s got a spirit about him, a love for the game that I’ve seen not only from the conversations that I had with him before we arrived but ever since we’ve been practicing,” said Joe Prunty, who will lead the U.S. coaching staff in these two games. “He has looked good.”
Johnson — the 39-year-old who scored 20,405 points in his 17 NBA seasons — offered even more praise after seeing Thomas in practices this week.
“He looks great,” Johnson said. “One thing I’ll say: In pick and rolls, I think he’s probably going to be unstoppable. Bigs, I don’t know what they’ll do. Do you get out and hedge? He’ll go around you and split you. Do you try to catch him? He’ll pull up for the jumper. He has a great arsenal. It’s been fun to watch him play, man. I will tell you that.”
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) February 15, 2021
Thomas’ last NBA appearance
Thomas last played on Feb. 3, 2020, for Washington. He was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers three days later, then waived, and hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since.
The hip surgery resurfacing, it’s called was performed three months later, and Thomas said the hip felt better immediately.
He was the No. 60, and last, pick in the 2011 draft. The other 73 final picks granted, the draft used to include more than 200 players have combined to score 6,644 points, while Thomas’ NBA total is 9,508.
He heard plenty of times that at 5-foot-9 he was too short for the NBA; he averaged 28.9 points for Boston in 2016-17, the most ever in league history for someone his height.