Sacramento Kings

NBA Beat: Isaiah Thomas adjusts to role with Suns but still longs to be a starter

Isaiah Thomas, sent to Phoenix by the Kings in a sign-and-trade, says he’d rather start for the Suns but accepts his role to help the team.
Isaiah Thomas, sent to Phoenix by the Kings in a sign-and-trade, says he’d rather start for the Suns but accepts his role to help the team. The Associated Press

As long as Isaiah Thomas has been in the NBA, he’s been out to prove he doesn’t fit the mold.

The rules say 5-foot-9 players cannot be starters, but don’t tell Thomas that.

In the first year of a four-year, $27 million contract, Thomas is a backup in Phoenix behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

Thomas is happy in his new situation after the Suns committed to him when Sacramento never made a serious attempt to retain him as its starting point guard.

Thomas, however, wouldn’t be the player he is if he accepted he’s destined to be a career-long reserve.

“It’s tough because I value myself as a starter, and in this organization they value me as a starter,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got to do what’s best for this team and what’s best as of right now is to come off the bench and be the sixth man and play my game when I do get in.

“But at the same time, who wants to be a sixth man? Everyone wants to start. That’s my ultimate goal. But when it’s about winning and you do whatever it takes to win, individual success will take care of itself.”

The problem is many scouts and coaches believe Thomas should be a sixth man.

The Kings preferred Thomas to be their sixth man and entered the offseason looking to replace him as their starter either through the draft or free agency.

The Kings signed Darren Collison, Chris Paul’s backup with the Los Angeles Clippers, to a three-year, $16 million deal and eventually agreed to a sign-and-trade to send Thomas to Phoenix.

Much like Thomas, Collison had been a starter in his career, too.

Thomas was stung that Sacramento didn’t make an effort to retain him. The Kings were criticized by many media members for not keeping a player who had been productive on the court and was an ambassador during the team’s relocation issues.

Thomas’ critics said he shot too much for a point guard, especially a point guard playing with two talented scorers in DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.

In his first media session during training camp, Cousins raved at how the ball moved better with Collison and Ramon Sessions at point guard and there wasn’t any excessive dribbling.

“I catch all of it,” Thomas said. “A lot of subliminal messages, but that is what it is. I’m not the first player ever traded. I’m not the first player to switch teams. That’s just how it is.”

Though publicly there wasn’t much said negatively about Thomas last season, some privately griped about Thomas’ scoring mentality.

Thomas said the only King he still communicates with is second-year guard Ray McCallum, along with many of his coaches in Sacramento.

Thomas said he’s focused on Phoenix, but Sacramento topics persist.

“It was tough because people always say, ‘You always talk about the Kings,’” Thomas said. “I don’t. People always ask me questions about the Kings and I just answer the question about it. At the end of the day, I wish them the best, and I’ve got to be focused ... and try to get to the playoffs.”

Thomas has found that Phoenix’s style suits his game. He’s gotten off to a good start with the Suns. Even though he had just three points and four assists in his first game against the Kings on Friday, he’s second on the Suns with 16 points per game and 50.7 percent shooting.

“We figured he was another guy who could push the ball for us,” said Suns coach Jeff Hornacek. “Kind of having the thought of if Goran or Eric are out of the game, we kind of have that same attack. (Thomas) does those things. He pushes it up and he’s able to attack the basket. That’s kind of the way we play.”

What Thomas truly values is a chance to win. The Kings never won more than 28 games in Thomas’ three seasons in Sacramento.

“Going into free agency, I wanted to be wanted,” Thomas said. “I wanted the chance to win basketball games and make the playoffs because that’s the next step in my career. I want to make the playoffs and show people I am a winner. So this was the best situation for me; add in the style of play, it’s easy to play my game whether I come off the bench or if I start.”

Trending up

To find his role on a championship team, Chris Bosh sacrificed stats and his credibility as one of the best big men in the NBA.

With LeBron James gone, Bosh is again being used as a primary player and reminding everyone he was an All-Star before he played for the Miami Heat.

Bosh is averaging 24.2 points and 11 rebounds in his first five games.

Trending down

The Indiana Pacers dropped five straight entering the weekend. Injuries and Lance Stephenson’s departure in free agency have left the Pacers relying on Chris Copeland and Donald Sloan for scoring. Neither was in the regular rotation last season.

Last words

“It was over ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ and ‘Family Guy.’ That’s what it was about. Obviously, he’s going to feel strongly about ‘Survivor’s Remorse.’ It’s his show! But I love ‘Family Guy.’ Heated exchange, words were said, no blows this time, but awesome for our team.”

– Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving to reporters, mocking reports he and LeBron James had a verbal exchange after a loss in Portland.

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