When the Sacramento Kings agreed to terms with free agent point guard Darren Collison on a three-year, $16 million deal on Thursday, the natural question came quickly thereafter.
What does this mean for the indefatigable Isaiah Thomas?
A person with knowledge of Collison's situation not only confirmed the agreement but said the 26-year-old who was Chris Paul's backup with the Los Angeles Clippers last season is heading for Sacramento with the understanding that he will be the starter. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because the deal can't be signed until the free agency moratorium ends on July 10.
That somewhat-surprising revelation leaves the 5-foot-9 Thomas, who is a restricted free agent, with two basic options: swallow your well-chronicled pride and return as an underpaid reserve to a struggling team or push on for a big payday elsewhere as if it's one of those one-on-three breaks that sometimes go your way. The Kings, of course, have the ability to match any offers that come his way, but the Collison deals puts a clear ceiling on the sorts of numbers he can expect that they're willing to pay.
Thomas has every right to want more, especially after a season in which he averaged the sort of numbers – 20.3 points, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals per game – that get the attention of so many suitors no matter how bad your team was in the process (the Kings were 28-54). The 25-year-old has seen himself as a starter for years, and that certainly won't be changing just because of the latest announcement that his former basketball bosses don't see it the same way.
He was the 60th pick in the 2011 draft, the proverbial last guy picked to play on this blacktop who scoffed at anyone who thought he was too small for the job. He has survived skepticism from the Kings' prior regime at every turn, then ultimately had the last laugh when the ballyhooed Jimmer Fredette era was short-lived, in large part, because of Thomas' sheer will to win the job. Then came Aaron Brooks, and Greivis Vasquez, and everyone finally seemed to understand that prying the starting job from Thomas' grips wouldn't be nearly as easy as it might have seemed.
But this is different, if only because Thomas clearly isn't going to get a huge payday in Sacramento if he can land a big enough offer sheet, and now may be the time for him to keep pushing for more-welcoming pastures. The Detroit Pistons have been having discussions with Thomas' representative, Andy Miller, and there are intriguing possibilities on that front which could include a possible sign-and-trade scenario that would send Pistons forward Josh Smith to Sacramento (though no known talks at the moment).
Thomas' eyes are likely the size of saucers at the Pistons possibility, what with new Detroit head man Stan Van Gundy having given Jodie Meeks a three-year, $19 million contract that set a high bar for players like Thomas who put up big numbers on bad teams.
Kyle Lowry agrees to new contract with Toronto Raptors
Thomas has also been tied to the Boston Celtics, a team that has no discernible need for a player like Thomas considering they have a franchise centerpiece in Rajon Rondo and a rookie in Marcus Smart who are more than capable of handling the point guard duties.
That led to natural speculation about a possible Rondo trade involving (a re-signed) Thomas with the Kings, who are known to covet the four-time All-Star and who just so happened to have just drafted a talent in Nik Stauskas who makes the player who was previously reported to part of such a scenario (second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore, though the Kings vehemently denied it at the time). All of which is conjecture at this point – especially the part about Celtics general manager Danny Ainge even responding to any inquiry about Rondo that didn't involve an All-Star coming his way.
But in the here and the now, it means the Kings paid a steep price for the sort of perimeter defense that Thomas simply can't provide and Thomas must now decide what's next. He could go the way of his good friend from the Seattle area, Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers, who has made quite a name for himself as a super sixth man. Or, of course, he can convince one of the many teams with interest to put a big enough offer on the table that the Kings set him free. The Los Angeles Times first reported Collison's deal.