Ailene Voisin

February 16, 2013

Ailene Voisin: Kings' Isaiah Thomas torn between two towns

If Isaiah Thomas decided to write a book, he could steal the title and borrow a few themes and spin his own "Tale of Two Cities."

Ailene Voisin

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HOUSTON – If Isaiah Thomas decided to write a book, he could steal the title and borrow a few themes and spin his own "Tale of Two Cities."

Sacramento or Seattle. His adopted home and his hometown. Rent or buy. Wondering when he can walk into a locker room – any NBA locker room – without one city clutching his ankles while the other holds tightly to his wrists.

"Every person I see, they say, 'Are you going back home next year?' " Thomas said before opening some eyes with his strong performance – 18 points and 10 assists – in Team Chuck's 163-135 victory over Team Shaq in Friday's Rising Stars Challenge at the Toyota Center. "They know it's (the Kings' future) up in the air. I get texts every day, Twitter feeds. 'Are you happy going to Seattle? Are you going to miss Sacramento? Could they be staying?'

"I try not to comment too much because people take things the wrong way."

As the Kings' only representative in the annual All-Star festivities, the diminutive second-year guard is a sizeable curiosity factor here, with the intrigue having more to do with the dueling cities than his ability to thrive in a league where 6-footers are considered undersized.

Ricky Rubio attracts a pregame media crowd and hears questions about passing and ball handling and recovering from major knee surgery. Damian Lillard is asked about the transition from Weber State standout to Rookie of the Year candidate. Alexey Shved is probed about developing his playmaking skills during his boyhood in Russia.

Thomas? He gets pummeled with inquiries about where he wants to play, what he thinks about the arena situation, how he believes the matter will be resolved, how often he speaks with former Phoenix Suns All-Star Kevin Johnson, and even whether he squeezes inside information out of the Sacramento mayor.

"I know he's (Johnson) here trying to work some things out," Thomas said with a slight smile. "We talk a lot, maybe once a week. He's been a real mentor to me."

While his rise hasn't been meteoric, the 5-foot-9 former Washington Huskies standout has created a space for himself in the NBA. Since being selected with the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft – a selection that usually earns a pat on the back and a nudge toward Europe – Thomas has outplayed Jimmer Fredette in rookie training camp, impressed coach Keith Smart with his defensive tenacity and feistiness, supplanted veteran Aaron Brooks as the starting point guard and demonstrated enough overall improvement to earn an invitation to the Rising Stars Challenge.

True, he's not a natural point guard. That search will continue, whether in Sacramento or Seattle. Thomas can overdribble and hunt for shots with the worst of the Kings on the worst of nights. But he has become more selective when attacking the basket, less inclined to dribble into crowds of defenders and increasingly effective at floating runners and one-handers over taller opponents.

"It's knowing where I can get in the lane, get my shots, and create for other people," Thomas said when caught alone for a few minutes. "The main thing is watching film. I know all the great players do it, and I want to be great. Right now, I'm trying to make plays going to my right. Bobby (Jackson) is working with me on that. He says I'm not trusting it right now. But I'll keep working and get better."

Thomas' plan is to enjoy himself this weekend within reason. Accompanied by his parents and his girlfriend, Thomas went to the mall, went bowling at John Lucas' charity event Thursday night, attended practice and played in Friday's game.

He's expected back in Sacramento in time for an extended nap and to begin mentally preparing for the second half of the season. And, of course, for the next installment and the next load of questions about the arena and possible move.

"It's a love-love situation," Thomas said. "I love the fans of Sacramento. They opened their arms to me. But I also love the fans of Seattle. I've been a part of a town that lost a team, and I don't wish that on anybody.

"If we left, I'd miss everything about Sacramento – the fan base, the community. That's definitely a second home. It's distracting. But my job is to play basketball so I go day by day."

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