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Suns coach Frank Vogel makes surprising decision with Isaiah Thomas rostered

Isaiah Thomas, former two-time All-Star, former All-NBA Second Teamer and top-five MVP voting, made his triumphant return to the NBA tonight in the Phoenix Suns’ blowout victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. After officially signing a 10-day contract with the Suns today, Thomas rode pine for all but the final 1:48 of action. The game was already over. With Philadelphia starters Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and De’Anthony Melton all injured, the team was a serious road underdog. True to form, Phoenix won by double digits, 115-102.

Thomas went 0-for-1 from the field tonight (he missed a layup) and had no free throws. However, he recorded an assist to striker Nassir Little. Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic captured the moment live:

It was Thomas’ first run in the NBA since the 2021-22 season, which he split between the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Hornets. He had signed 10-day deals with all three franchises, but ultimately stayed with the Hornets, who ended up signing him for the remainder of the season to back up starter LaMelo Ball. Thomas impressed teams with his play this year for the Salt Lake City Stars, G League affiliate of the Utah Jazz, and was quickly snapped up by Phoenix.

Isaiah Thomas #3 of the Phoenix Suns in action against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on December 26, 2014 in Sacramento, California. Less than ten years later, he is back in Phoenix.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

His humble evening is a far cry from his All-Star heyday with the Boston Celtics. Between 2015 and 2017, he averaged 25.5 points with .446/.371/.892 shooting times, 6.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds and a steal. A serious hip injury robbed him of some of his ability to explode against his competition, and without that speed advantage, he lost some of what made the 5’9″ point guard such a cover. solid. It’s exciting to see him again. injury, Thomas played in 46 games (one start) for the Suns in 2014-15, averaging 15.2 points on .426/.391/.872 shooting, as well as 3.7 assists, 2.4 rebounds and a steal.

According to Gérald Bourguet of PHNX Sports, Thomas hopes that this return of the Suns marks only the beginning of his return to the NBA. He will earn $183,704 during his tenure with the franchise under the current agreement. And he hopes to earn a lot more, with greater long-term security, in the future.

“I want to play a few more years in the league, so hopefully this is a setup for that,” Thomas said. “Whatever the opportunity, I’m ready to make an impact every day. Whether I play or not, for me, that’s more important than putting the ball in the basket. For example, I’m able to lead, to lead by example, I draw on my experiences and help myself in any way possible.”

Heading into tonight’s game, head coach Frank Vogel would not commit to Thomas being retained beyond his current contract. The team added Thomas, in part, to spell two-way guard Saben Lee, who is only eligible for four more games with Phoenix under his current contract. The Suns are expected to convert Lee to their standard 15-man roster beyond that.

“(Thomas is) a very well-liked and respected guy in this league, in this fraternity of NBA players, but we’ll see where his game is at,” Vogel said. “Again, I don’t know how long he’ll play for us. He’s definitely there from a depth standpoint because Saben Lee only has four games left.”

He received an incredibly warm reception from the crowd tonight, as evidenced by Basketball Forever. It was a great moment. And it was clear that he appreciated this love.

Thomas’ appearance wasn’t quite the main story of the evening. Future Suns Hall of Famer Kevin Durant surpassed former Suns All-Star Shaquille O’Neal’s career mark in points scored in the regular season. He finished with 22 points on 10-of-18 field goal shooting, plus eight rebounds and four assists. He has now scored 28,610 career total points in the regular season, which ranks eighth in NBA history (and 10th in combined NBA/ABA history).

Small forward Grayson Allen was the Suns’ top scorer, scoring 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field (and an unreal 9-of-15 from deep!) and 3-of-4 shooting from the foul line. Allen is currently the league leader in three-point conversion rate this season, at 48.3 percent on 5.9 attempts per game. The Suns also impressed defensively, limiting the Sixers’ only healthy All-Star, point guard Tyrese Maxey, to just six points on 3-of-13 shooting from the floor.

With the win, Phoenix improves to 40-29 this season, but remains stuck in eighth place in a talented Western Conference (they would be sixth in the East with the same record). However, the Suns are just 0.5 games behind the sixth-seeded Sacramento Kings and are surely hoping to avoid the play-in tournament (seeds 7-10) in the playoffs. Maybe an extra spark from Thomas coming off the bench is just the kick this team could use… if they’re willing to give him a little more run. Welcome back, IT!