INDEPENDENCE — Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman interrupted and answered — sort of — the first question posed to Isaiah Thomas about the point guard’s injured hip.
“We’re not going to put a timetable on his return,” Altman said Thursday afternoon at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “We’re not going to rush it at all. ... The goal is to bring him back at some point this year and be healthy and compete at I.T. status.”
When the next media member attempted to ask another question to Thomas about his hip, Altman interjected again.
“I don’t want this to be the Isaiah Thomas hip press conference,” the 34-year-old GM said. “I’m just going to, with all due respect, shut down the hip questions.
“If we want to talk about Isaiah, let’s talk about Isaiah the All-Star. Let’s talk about Isaiah, the guy that averaged 29 points a game last year. Let’s talk about him as a leader and what he’s going to bring to this franchise in terms of his performance on the floor when we get him back.”
That’s how a press conference to introduce the 5-foot-9 Thomas, small forward Jae Crowder and center Ante Zizic began.
The three were acquired, along with a 2018 first-round pick that originally belonged to Brooklyn, from the Boston Celtics in exchange for four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, with both teams announcing the deal on Aug. 22.
Thomas then took a physical in Cleveland, some alarms went off and the trade didn’t become official until Aug. 31, when Boston threw in a 2020 second-round pick that originally belonged to Miami.
Thomas averaged a career-high 28.9 points and finished fifth in the league MVP voting as the Celtics compiled the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2016-17, but he missed the final three games of the conference finals against the Cavs when a hip injury suffered in the regular season flared up considerably.
The 28-year-old elected not to have surgery on what ended up being a torn labrum and will likely miss a significant portion of the 2017-18 season, but no one seems to know exactly how long he’ll be out.
“I’m just getting treatment each and every day, working out in the weight room,” Thomas said. “That’s the most I’m doing right now.
“We have a plan set,” he added. “We’re going to attack that plan 100 percent and get me back to playing as soon as possible.”
Altman said that plan is “non-surgical” — Thomas quipped “Y’all hear that?” when the GM uttered those words — but didn’t shed any light on when the point guard would begin sprinting, jumping or cutting, let alone playing.
“Our responsibility is to get him back to 100 percent,” the GM said. “That’s our goal.”
Some reports have said Thomas will be out until at least January. Others have put his return date near the All-Star break in February.
Thomas, the last player taken in the 2011 NBA Draft, is used to being doubted, but he’s positive he’ll return to being the same player he was prior to the injury.
“That’s just been my story,” he said of being doubted. “I’m fine with it. ... I averaged 29 a game and they’re still gonna talk. I can be MVP one day and they’re still going to say something’s wrong with my game. That’s fine. I accept that.
“I’m going to keep using it as motivation, keep fighting and keep growing and doing whatever it takes to win a championship. That’s just been my mindset since Day 1.”
Until Thomas returns, the Cavs’ starting point guard will be Derrick Rose, who was the league MVP in 2011 but missed all of the 2012-13 season and played in just 10 games the following year due to knee injuries. Veteran Jose Calderon, who was working out at Cleveland’s practice facility prior to the press conference, will be the backup.
At some point, though, Thomas will take over the reins, barring any complications in his recovery.
“I’m blessed to be able to be traded to a situation where realistically we could win a championship next year,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for any better.”
Thomas has exchanged a few text messages with four-time league MVP and three-time NBA champion LeBron James and can’t wait to play with the small forward and the rest of his new Cavs teammates.
“It’s like a match made in heaven,” he said. “It’s a scary thing if everything is able to click.”
Like James, who is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract next summer, Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent in July 2018. He was expected to command a $100 million-plus deal, but potential injury complications could threaten that.
“When it comes to basketball, there’s no pressure,” Thomas said. “I’ve worked too hard to even think about pressure. When that time comes where I’m able to be on the court and play at the level I know I can play at, that will take care of everything else.
“I want to be the greatest player to ever play,” he added. “That’s just who I am. It was about that in Boston. Now it’s about that in Cleveland.”
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