Isaiah Thomas Wants Back In Basketball

By Dennis Berry

Let it be known, Isaiah Thomas is looking for a job.

ESPNChicago’s Scott Powers interviewed the former Detroit Pistons All-Star and Thomas made it clear he wants to be part of the sport again.

"I definitely want to be in basketball again whether it be coaching or as a general manager," Thomas said by phone. "My gift is basketball. I would love working with the kids. If it's the right college program, I would consider it. If it's the right GM job or coaching job in the NBA, I would consider it. I love the game. I just want to be in the game."

There was never any question of what Thomas brought to a team as a player.

In 1981 as a sophomore he led Indiana to the NCAA title and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. In 13 seasons in the NBA he averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 assists a game. He was a 12 time All-Star, led the Pistons to two NBA Titles and was the MVP of the 1990 NBA Finals.

His post playing career has not been as successful. He has struggled in both the front office and on the sidelines. He has been everything from a coach, part owner, and owner to an entire league. Each stop along the way has not ended well.


Thomas retired from the NBA after tearing his ACL in 1994. His first job following his retirement would be as part owner and Executive Vice President of the expansion Toronto Raptors. That is not a bad way to start your post playing career.

As what happens many times with expansion teams they struggled. While Thomas was there the Raptors were able to draft young start like Damon Stoudamire (1995), Marcus Camby (1996), and Tracy McGrady (1997). There was little success on the court as the Raptors went 67-179.

In 1998 Thomas and the Raptors parted ways after the team was sold.

Fall of the CBA

After leaving the Toronto organization Thomas headed up a group that would buy the old Continental Basketball Association (CBA). In 1998 Thomas would by the CBA for $10 million.

The CBA had been around since 1946 and was best known as a development league for the NBA since the 1970’s. The The CBA was a way for younger players who were not drafted or sign to contracts to continue to play, develop, and get a shot at the NBA. It was also used to help fill roster spots on NBA teams because of injuries.

After the NBA announced that it would create the National Basketball Development League, the CBA fate was sealed. Early in 2001, the CBA was bankrupt and folded.

Many blame the demise of the league on Thomas.

Isaiah Thomas during a ceremony retiring Dennis Rodmans jersey an NBA game
Apr 01, 2011; Auburn Hills, MI, USA: Isaiah Thomas during a ceremony retiring Dennis Rodmans jersey an NBA game at The Palace. Chicago won 101-96. Photo Courtesy By: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE.

Pacers Head Coach

Before the CBA folded, Thomas had already moved on. In 2000 he was named the Head Coach of the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were coming off an NBA Finals run the year before under Larry Bird.

Thomas run as Pacers coach would be his most successful to date. He would be the Head Coach for three seasons. He compile a 131-115 in three years and the Pacers would make the playoffs every season.

Unfortunately, that is all the Pacers did. They would lose in the first round all three years. In 2001 they were knocked out by the Philadelphia 76ers and in 2002 they would be knocked out by the New Jersey Nets. Both teams would make the NBA Finals.

The final straw would be when the Boston Celtics eliminated them when they where the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Thomas would be let go following the playoffs.

New York Knicks

After being let go by Indiana, Thomas would be on his way to the Big Apple. In December 2003, Thomas would be hired as President of Basketball Operations of the New York Knicks.

Knicks fans do not look back fondly on Thomas’s time in New York. Thomas was there from 2003 to 2008. During that time the Knicks never had a winning record and made the playoffs once in 2004 with 39-43 record. They would be swept by the Nets 4-0.

During his time Thomas made questionable roster moves and signed bad contracts. The 2005-06 season sums it up best. The Knicks had the highest payroll in the league, but only won 23 games.

The following season Thomas would become the Head Coach. The next two years the Knicks would go 56-108. Going from 33 wins to 23 wins in year two.

Thomas would be let go in 2008.


In 2009 Thomas would return to the sidelines. This time he would do it in college when he was named Head coach of Florida International University.

The Golden Panthers have only one NCAA Tournament appearance coming 1995. They were coming off 13-20 campaign in 2008-09. They were looking for something to put a spark into a program and something to build on.

The hiring of Thomas certainly got the Golden Panthers in the news. That was about it for the Panthers. Thomas never got it going on the college level. Although Thomas was able to bring in a higher level of basketball player, the results never came.

In three years at FIU Thomas went 26-65. The highest win total came in year two with 11. After going 8-21 in 2011-12, Thomas was let go.

Looking at this track record it will be interesting to see if Thomas is given another.

The thing is Isiah Thomas should be involved with basketball. He has had success on every level he played. He is one of the all-time great point guards to play the position.

While Thomas was a proven winner as a player, the same cannot be said as an executive or coach. His time in charge of the Knicks set the franchise back years and they are just now getting out of the hole. When he had a team that was coming off a Finals run, he could not get it out of the first round.

If Thomas does get another shot as a coach or as executive, he better give it everything he has. He fails again; he may not get another chance.

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