Isaiah Thomas just can’t seem to get out of his own way.
After his latest fraught on-court incident once again left him unavailable, it’s clear the veteran guard should be wearing out his welcome with the Washington Wizards. What’s less certain is why coach Scott Brooks and general manager Tommy Sheppard feel the need to continue empowering him.
Less than two minutes into Friday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Thomas was trapped on the right side of the floor by Carmelo Anthony and Damian Lillard. Fighting to protect the ball and keep himself from falling out of bounds, a frustrated Thomas lost his balance.
But instead of stepping on the sideline and committing a routine turnover, he used his off-arm to push off referee Marat Kogut – eliciting an immediate ejection.
Thomas feigned ignorance, ostensibly maintaining that his natural momentum carried him into Kogut. But the call on the floor was upheld after video review.
After the game, officiating crew chief Mark Ayotte told reporters that Thomas “made physical contact with the referee,” calling the contact “definitely just a push.”
Not everyone saw what video replay and the referees’ justification for Thomas’ ejection made obvious, though.
Brooks offered tepid criticism of the officials’ decision, saying his view of the incident led him to believe that contact between Thomas and Kogut was incidental. Still, even Brooks qualified his critique, allowing for the possibility that the referees “made the right call.”
“I thought he just fell into him. And that was it,” he said, per ESPN. “They reviewed it and they kind of stood their ground on it. So I guess what they thought happened, happened.”
Thomas, meanwhile, left Capital One Arena early without speaking to media.
Friday marked the second time in less than two weeks that Thomas was central to a tense in-game situation involving non-players.
On Dec. 21, he went into the stands at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center to confront a fan who levied multiple profanities at him for missing a free throw. Though the subsequent interaction was largely innocuous, Thomas was ejected and ultimately suspended two games .
There’s no excuse for fan behavior toward players that should be considered nothing less than verbal abuse. Perhaps there’s some kernel of truth to the notion that Thomas’ waning balance caused him to make unavoidable contact with Kogut, too.
The bottom line, though, is that Thomas has twice made himself unavailable to Washington in recent weeks by proving unable to control his emotions. Every NBA player is inevitably put in similar positions to the ones he found himself in over the course of a season, and almost every NBA player is able to de-escalate them.
Thomas hasn’t, an especially problematic development for a player whose main utility to the Wizards is supposed to be leadership. Though he’s been a deadeye three-point shooter this season, Thomas, 30, has otherwise offered little to no value for a team in the midst of rebuilding.
If he’s setting an abjectly negative example for young players, just what is Thomas adding to Washington that the team can’t live without? That’s the question Sheppard and Brooks should be asking themselves after his latest self-induced controversy.
The answer, unfortunately for Thomas, is just as self-evident as the push that caused his latest ejection. With the trade deadline and contract guarantee dates quickly approaching, don’t be surprised if Thomas soon finds himself playing elsewhere.