The NBA is a business. Sometimes, this is a hard reality to swallow. Loyalty has become fickle and few and far between. Not only do players leave for free agency every few years, but teams will do whatever is in their best interest. Teams will trade whomever they like, oftentimes putting players in situations they don’t want to be in.
This was the case for Isaiah Thomas. He was averaging 29 points a game for the Boston Celtics in 2016. The Celtics were playing like the second-best team in the NBA. He was going to earn himself a max contract extension in the offseason. He was getting consideration for the MVP.
But the Celtics fizzled out in the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas played hurt in the first round and played the day after his sister died in a tragic car accident. He ended up really messing up his legs and took months to recover.
Then just a month later, the Celtics shipped him off to Cleveland in a blockbuster deal that sent Kyrie Irving to the Celtics. Thomas finally came back and he didn’t fit with LeBron James. The Cavaliers traded him away to the Los Angeles Lakers for Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson.
Then, he played a little bit for the Lakers. But again, a new change of scenery and a lack of trust brought him to produce poorly. About 15 months ago, he was going to end up with a new nine-figure contract. Now, he’s making two million a year to come off the bench for the Denver Nuggets.
Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics saw Isaiah Thomas as commodity that could be marketed. Somebody who filled the TD Garden to max capacity. Someone who sold millions of jerseys to young children all over Boston. Someone who heard chants of “MVP” as he went to the free throw line. Now, it’s all gone.
This is just Thomas’ story. There others like his out there. Players put in a position to fail, treated poorly by management, doesn’t get offered a fair contract, is mistreated by the training staff, or is left to fail with poor roster construction.
These leave great talents misunderstood. Unheralded. These men were overshadowed by other players because they were utilized incorrectly. Sometimes, players just get screwed over.
Here’s a list of five men who were screwed over just as bad or worse than Isaiah Thomas himself.
Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz
Fultz came into the NBA draft in 2017 as the top prospect. His ability as a point guard was something many people expected to see in All-Star games down the road. However, the 76ers medical staff once again failed to realize that Fultz had a nerve condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
This condition effects nerves between the neck and shoulder resulting in abnormal functional movement and range of motion. This hinders his ability to shoot a basketball. It’s treatable by physical therapy. However, it took the team nearly til December of 2018 to diagnose this disease. All this time was taken to fix his jumper and to help get his shoulder back to full health.
Just this past week the team traded him away, a former first overall draft choice, to the Orlando Magic just for a second-round draft pick and veteran draft pick Jonathan Simmons. They let him go to a mediocre franchise who hasn’t had a good point guard in years. They simply gave up. Not exactly a player who ever reached the level Isaiah Thomas, but still.
Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Derrick Rose:
The Chicago Bulls from 2010-2014 were one of the best teams in the NBA. Their core of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Derrick Rose allowed them to get fairly deep into the playoffs. However, head coach Tom Thibadeau ran the team into the ground.
He overplayed Derrick Rose to the point of having him in meaningless regular season games up late in the fourth quarter. If his playing time had been conserved, it’s quite possible he never would have had the severity of his ligament tears.
In the same sentiment, Deng led the entire NBA in minutes two years in a row from 2011-2012. He averaged nearly 39 minutes per game four years in a row. This amount of time is absolutely ridiculous. Deng once had to leave a game to go get an emergency spinal tap. Thibadeau overworked him, and Deng just now, five years later, was able to play 30+ minutes in a game.
Each of these player’s careers were cut short by injury. It took them until 2019 to regain their talent level. The Chicago Bulls front office allowed the coaching staff to push them too far.
Milwaukee Bucks: Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1961. Because he had played college basketball at the University of Cincinnati, he was obligated to join the team because of territorial rights.
The organization never paid him what he wanted and he couldn’t leave until 1970. By that time, Robertson was 31 and dead out of his prime. His statistical accomplishments were empty because he never got to win in the playoffs until he was with the Milwaukee Bucks.
This was before NBA free agency was a thing, and the organization that was finally able to acquire him was too little too late. His entire prime was wasted because he went to a certain college, just unfair for the man.
Negligence can permanently impact a players career. In the case of Fultz and the Bulls trio, they were the product of a poor coaching staff and a lack of player accountability. Oscar Robertson was never given a full chance to succeed, and his story happened even before the NBA and ABA merger.
There are many stories of how players were mistreated by organizations. This is why we now have the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Players have a say and a choice with how the league is run. Without it, the NBA would be in chaos.
Even though the story of Isaiah Thomas is very unfortunate and very circumstantial, this can happen to any player. Loyalty is only as far as the pen and paper that signed the contract. At the end of the day, the NBA is a business.