Isaiah Thomas to the Magic seems to make sense for both sides: a free agent point guard heading to a team in dire need of a point guard.
Not trying to read too much into Thomas recently following the Magic on Twitter, but Orlando does seem as likely a destination as any for the 5-9 point guard if he is willing to accept say the mid-level exception.
So, let’s quickly take a look at the pros and cons of potentially having Thomas in a Magic uniform. As a low-risk option, the pros seem to outweigh the cons, but we will look at it from both sides of the argument.
He fills a need at point guard
With the Magic having waived Shelvin Mack, the lone point guard currently on the Magic is D.J. Augustin. Augustin filled in nicely as a starter last season after Elfrid Payton was traded, but he is better suited as a back-up. Bringing in Thomas would give the Magic a proven playmaker and facilitator. This allows them to shift Augustin back to the bench, and also gives Steve Clifford the option of playing the two alongside one another in a small-ball lineup every now and then. Also, Thomas provides a veteran presence that the Magic will need with the loss of Mo Speights and Arron Afflalo. And the Magic’s frontcourt should help compensate for Thomas’ shortcomings on the defensive end.
He gives the Magic a go-to scorer
Thomas has proven that he is capable of being the first-option on a playoff team, having averaged 28.9 points per game with the Celtics during the 2016-2017 season when he made second-team All-NBA and finished fifth in MVP voting. He gives the Magic something they have lacked for quite some time: a player they can give the ball to when they desperately need a bucket. Aaron Gordon showed last season that he has potential to fill that role, but with his questionable shot selection and propensity to force, wasn’t quite ready last season. Having IT for a year or two could take the pressure off Gordon and open the court for others.
He will have something to prove
If Thomas is signed to a one-year deal, he will be highly motivated to showcase himself before heading back into free agency in 2019 when more teams will be equipped to hand out more lucrative contracts. Further motivating a player who has already played his entire career with a chip on his shoulder (he was the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft) could be very beneficial for the Magic on a short-term basis.
He gives the Magic a marketable player
OK, so maybe the addition of Thomas doesn’t mean Magic games will be broadcasted on ESPN and TNT every week, but his presence does add some excitement. Don’t forget, the Magic did have the second lowest local television ratings in the NBA last season. If Thomas returns to his old self (a big IF considering his injury history), he gives fans a reason to tune in. He is a known commodity in the NBA, his ability to thrive in the league despite his size adds intrigue to broadcasts, and there will be a curiosity factor to see if he can once again become the player he once was.
He may help the Magic get back to the playoffs
The Magic’s playoff drought has now reached six years, during which they have won a grand total of 157 games. Last season, they showed that they weren’t any closer to the postseason than they were when they started the rebuild the day Dwight Howard was traded. Now that they have re-signed Gordon, are expecting the healthy return of Jonathan Isaac and have drafted Mo Bamba, the Magic seem to be headed in the right direction. Adding Thomas to the mix could expedite that process and perhaps even put them in contention for the seventh or eighth seed in a weakened Eastern Conference.
He has injury concerns
Thomas is a 29-years-old, 5-9 point guard who has taken a beating in a league of giants. He played in just 32 games last season, 15 for the Cavs and 17 to the Lakers, where he was relegated to sixth-man. He re-aggravated a hip injury and required surgery in March, bringing his season to its merciful end. That Thomas’ nightmare season came during a contract year raised many questions for his impending free agency. While a one-year deal would be very low risk, the Magic still need a point guard to take the court. Targeting a younger and healthier point guard that could actually be part of the Magic’s future, like signing Tyler Ulis or trading for Tyus Jones, could be the more sensible option.
He has suffered a decline in production
Those injuries, along with going from being LeBron James’ failed second-option to the Lakers’ sixth man, have led to a drop in Thomas’ numbers. The most apparent sign of that is the plunge in his scoring average, from 28.9 in 2016-2017 to 15.2 points per game in 2017-2018. But beyond that is a drop in free throw attempts per game (from 8.5 to 4.1), suggesting his ability to burst to the basket isn’t what it once was, and a drop in his three-point shooting (from 37.9 percent to 29.3 percent), meaning he is no longer as reliable from long range as he once was. Again, the circumstances of Thomas going to a Celtics team where he was the unquestioned leader to the Cavs and Lakers where he was an injured misfit must be considered, but Thomas’ Win Shares dropped from 12.1 to 0.2. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated wrote that among those who played in at least 30 games and averaged a minimum of 12 shots per game, Thomas had the worst effective field goal percentage in the league at 43.8 percent. In addition, Thomas had the fifth worst defensive real-plus minus in the league at minus-3.62. When Thomas is shooting at an efficient rate, it’s easier to accept his defensive shortcomings. When he isn’t, not so much. Do these numbers jump back up with Thomas in the right situation? Who knows?
He will hinder the development of younger players
While Orlando is in need of a scorer, bringing in a high-volume shooter like Thomas does take the ball out of the hands of the players that are guaranteed to be a part of the Magic’s future. Taking shots away from Gordon, Isaac and Bamba robs the young trio of developmental opportunities during what is a prime year for them to suffer growing pains during the Magic’s rebuild.
He could have too much to prove
Thomas has long been one of the league’s most underpaid players. With his age working against him, and with a need to prove that he is healthy and capable of being the 2017 version of IT, his main priority will be landing a contract, not improving the Magic. With a young team, having Thomas serve as the focal point when he may be willing to sacrifice the betterment of the team for himself could be counterproductive for the Magic.
He may help the Magic get back to the playoffs
Yes, this is both a pro and a con....Sure, we would all love to see Amway Center in operation during the NBA playoffs for the first time in a long time. But is getting the eighth seed and possibly being swept by the Celtics really what the Magic need right now? Another losing season, where they allow the Magic young core to develop and grab another lottery pick might be better for the team’s long-term improvement.