All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas told ESPN that he has made significant progress with his injured hip toward a return in the 2017-18 season and has a message for NBA teams doubting his long-term prognosis.
"I am not damaged," Thomas told ESPN on Tuesday. "I'll be back, and I'll be the same player."
Thomas, a second-team All-NBA player for the Boston Celtics, was included in a trade to Cleveland for four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving on Aug. 22, but uncertainty surrounding his anticipated return to the court stalled the finalizing of the deal.
In an interview with ESPN on Tuesday afternoon, Thomas was forceful in his belief that the labrum injury that ended his season in the Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland would not have a long-term impact on his career.
"There's never been an indication that I wouldn't be back, and there's never been an indication that this is something messing up my career," Thomas told ESPN. "Maybe I am not going to be back as soon this season as everyone wants me to be, but I'm going to be back, and I'm going to be the same player again. No doctor has told me anything different than that."
Thomas, 28, is entering the final year of his contract and has been expected to be in line for a $100 million-plus contract in free agency. He had the best season of his career in 2016-17, averaging 28.9 points per game. In his three seasons with the Celtics, Thomas emerged as one of the NBA's elite guards. He was named an Eastern Conference All-Star twice.
"I haven't had one doctor tell me that this injury is going to hurt my career," Thomas said. "Surgery was not the best option in this case. I aggravated it in March when [Minnesota's] Karl-Anthony Towns fell on me. I kept playing on it and making it worse -- until I couldn't play anymore last season."
The Celtics and Cavaliers agreed on a deal to send Irving to Boston for Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and a 2018 unprotected first-round pick via the Brooklyn Nets. They finalized a new deal Wednesday night, with Boston throwing in a 2020 second-rounder via the Heat.
Thomas said he has been in consistent contact with Cavaliers officials since his physical Friday in Cleveland.
"I don't know what [the organization] is doing," Thomas told ESPN. "It's out of my control. I just want to talk about what I can control, and I know that this [hip] won't be a problem into the future."
Thomas did not yet want to speak about the emotions of a possible departure from Boston or arrival in Cleveland. He has been consulting with renowned hip specialist Dr. Bryan Kelly of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
"He told me, 'I have seen hips worse than yours with guys who played at a high level and had great careers,'" Thomas told ESPN. "At the moment, yes, I am injured, but I have made progress from May."
Because Thomas is in the final year of his contract -- which coincides with James' opt-out next summer -- Cleveland has an urgency to get Thomas on the court this season.
Ever since Thomas' physical with the Cavaliers on Friday, there has been significant uncertainty within the organization about when -- or if -- Thomas could play this season, league sources told ESPN. Those doubts led to Cleveland seeking additional compensation from the Celtics.
All along, Boston has believed that it was clear in its assessment of Thomas' physical status and that the information was communicated to the Cavaliers in conversations before Tuesday's trade, league sources said. In a telephone conference call with reporters after the trade was announced, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge admitted that Thomas' physical condition played "some" role in trading him to Cleveland as part of the Irving package.
Cavaliers officials have made the case that Boston undersold them on the scope of the Thomas injury, and more specifically, how soon Thomas could be prepared to play this season, league sources said. The sides did discuss and share information on Thomas' injury, sources said.
Cleveland had significantly valued the 2018 Nets pick in the trade, and Boston believed it allowed for Thomas' physical uncertainty in the current terms of the deal, league sources said.