The question is asked at the beginning of every NBA season in recent years: Will the Cleveland Cavaliers, the undeniable Beast of the East, ever have enough to get past the best in the West? It’s clear that LeBron James, superstar and once-in-a-generation player that he may be, cannot carry the team all by himself. He needs help … and he just hasn’t found it.
Except maybe now he has. Isaiah Thomas is back on the court, and he’s wearing Cleveland’s colors. Isaiah Thomas, not related to but named for the NBA legend Isiah Thomas, the younger Thomas has played for several NBA teams. He started in Sacramento, where he played three seasons. Then it was on to Phoenix, where he played for the Suns for a year, before moving on to the Celtics, where he played nemesis to the Cavs for two seasons.
During his early career, Thomas has played All-Star caliber basketball, including in the finals last season, where he helped the Celtics push the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then, after two games, he went out with a hip injury. That might have been it for Thomas. The Celtics shopped him around and, of all teams, Cleveland picked him up. Then some bad physicals created some tension with the new team. But Thomas kept working and Cleveland kept the faith. On January 2, against the Portland Trail Blazers, Thomas came off the bench and scored 17 points in 19 minutes. Talk about rewarding a team’s faith.
Thomas was bolstered by the warm reception from the Cleveland faithful. When his number was announced, the crowd roared a welcome. He also felt that warm reception from his fellow players. As he left the court with 8 minutes left in the game and the Cavaliers up by 12, James reached out and hugged him, as did Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.
So, will Thomas make the difference? Seems he may have been the missing piece. James had 24 in the game, Jae Crowder had 15, and Kevin Love had 19, very balanced scoring for the Cavs, especially in recent years. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Cavs and clearly raised the hopes of Cleveland fans who have been dealing with “almost good enough” for many seasons.
LeBron had come back to Cleveland promising his home team he would put together a team that could win multiple championships. Instead, he was frustrated, time and again, by better, more balanced Western teams. With a healthy Thomas and his other teammates stepping up, 2018 might finally be the year.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.