Earlier today, David Aldridge posted an article on NBA.com that included a Q&A with Phoenix Suns point guard Isaiah Thomas, about a myriad of topics including his decision to sign with the team this summer, and how his role on the team has unfolded so far, versus his expectations.
While Thomas has already indicated in the past his desire to start, which has led to some fans and analysts questioning whether or not he can ever truly be happy in a back-up role here in Phoenix, his answers in this article further indicate that he expected to play big minutes on the Suns team, and that things may not have played out exactly as he anticipated when signing the four-year, $27 million contract this past July.
Within this latest article, there are three questions and answers specifically that really stand out above the rest, and provide a great deal of insight about Isaiah's expectations and current level of happiness on this Suns' team.
Here is the first:
David Aldridge asks Isaiah, "With the way Goran and Eric played here last year, why did you think you'd find enough minutes in Phoenix?"
Isaiah's response was:
"I really went home, talked to my family, prayed on it. I really tried to envision how it would really work, 'cause it didn't make sense. But when they put it on paper and they told me I was going to be a big part of what they do here, I believed them. I felt like they were genuine. And we've had ups and downs this season, but at the end of the day we're trying to do the best we can to make it work. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. We tried. But we're doing the best we can to make it work and we're doing the best we can for this team."
At first glance, this seems troubling. Especially because of how he's referring to his belief of the Suns genuine plan to include him as part of their big plan is mentioned in the past tense.
How much better would this have sounded if Isaiah simply changed his answer to the present tense? But alas, he did not. So we're left to speculate on whether he was simply relaying his original feelings from when this all occurred, or if he is providing his reasons for signing which no longer apply.
Fortunately though, Aldridge doesn't leave it at that, he presses on. He then asks, "How many times have the three of you been on the floor at the same time?". To which Isaiah replies:
"Last two games. Before that, it would be stretches where it would be two or three minutes here or there. But not as much as I envisioned. When I signed here I thought we'd be playing a lot together. Maybe that changes. The last two games, we're on a two-game winning streak (three after winning in Washington Sunday night), Coach has changed it up a little bit to where we're ending the game together, the last seven or eight minutes of the game, we're all playing together. Hopefully that happens a lot more, 'cause I do feel like we could use that to our advantage, and it could work."
At the beginning of this quote, once again, things sound a little bleak. Isaiah mentions that the when he signed here he thought they would be playing a lot together...meaning the three point guards. That hasn't necessarily been the case throughout the beginning of the season, when Thomas was used more in a back-up role, and played mostly opposite of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
However, this has changed recently. As Isaiah noted, the Suns have been finishing games with the three-guard lineup recently, including all three of these last road games, which they also won...leading to their second longest winning streak of the season thus far.
He then ends this answer with a bit more positive, upbeat response...mentioning that he thinks the Suns' three-guard lineup can work.
Finally, Aldridge asks Isaiah about the team in general, and what he thinks the Suns need to do to win more games. To this, Isaiah answers:
"I think we've got to become a more consistent team, first and foremost. Every night, we've got to bring it. We've got to know that even with the great teams, and the not-so-great teams, we've got to play one way at all times. We've had a couple of tough losses this year that we thought we should have won, but that's behind us. It's going to be ups and downs, but in that Western Conference, there's no room for error. There's no room for slippage. You lose a few, somebody wins a few, you drop a lot. We know how close it is in the playoff race. We've got to really buckle down, lock it in. We know that every game really counts."
I thought it was important to share this quote as well, to point out that Isaiah isn't simply complaining about his minutes or talking about himself. He does want what's best for the team, and he want to win.
But I know that these quotes will rub some, or maybe many the wrong way.
These quotes certainly indicate that Thomas wants, and expects to play big minutes. And while I'm not sure of what the Suns initially told him when persuading him to sign here, it is clear from his answers that he never expected to be a bench player, or even a sixth man for this team...he expected to receive an equal share of the minutes, split three ways.
So is he completely off-base?
Well, maybe not. I was personally in attendance at the Isaiah Thomas introductory press conference when Suns GM Ryan McDonough and Coach Jeff Hornacek fielded questions about their plans for Isaiah in the Suns line-up.
At the time, there was uncertainty surrounding Bledsoe and whether or not he would re-sign with Phoenix. However, even then, he was mentioned as a part of the Suns' long-term plans, as Hornacek mentioned that he wanted to use the three point guards in a "two at all times" rotation, meaning that only one of Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas would be off the court at any given time during the game.
That wasn't how things initially began though, with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic leading the first unit and Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green leading the second unit off the bench. This probably wasn't at all what Isaiah expected, as I'm fairly sure he was also given the same impression as the media shortly after he signed...which is that he wouldn't be a bench player, but a crucial component of a deadly, non-stop, three-guard rotation that would have each of them averaging 32 minutes per game.
So can you really blame Isaiah for feeling a little disappointed with how things have played out so far?
In my opinion, this isn't Isaiah complaining, as much as it is him answering questions honestly about his reasons for agreeing to sign with the Suns this off-season, and his disappointment in the Suns start to the season.
So no, I don't really think Isaiah is unhappy in Phoenix...he just wants to win, and wants to help the team in doing so.
Furthermore, I mostly agree with him. I think the Suns have found a winning formula with the three guard line-up, and playing them together at the end of the game has yielded very positive results thus far. I also share Isaiah's optimism that the three guards can play together, help the Suns win, and coexist on the same team. The Suns are actually 12-7 when all three guards have played together, and only 3-7 when either Isaiah or Dragic sat out.
I definitely don't think Isaiah Thomas is part of the problem...in fact, I think he will become a big part of the solution once the team finally develops some chemistry together now that everyone is healthy.
Still not convinced that Isaiah is happy in Phoenix?
When Isaiah was asked about Sacramento, he said, "At the end of the day, I'm fine with it. They're happy with what they've got, and I'm happy with the situation I'm in."
And there it is.
The coaching staff has been experimenting with a lot of different rotations so far, but at least for now, they seem to have found the right mix...One that Isaiah is a key ingredient of.
The question is, what happens next?