The Washington Wizards won’t be at the top of the league next year, but they will have players worth watching. After a swift fall from the top of the league, Isaiah Thomas is trying to work to his way back. Thomas is confident that he can become a major asset in Washington. The Crossover podcast asked Scott Brooks what he thinks about Thomas and the role he could play for the Wizards.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Mannix: I want to ask you about Isaiah Thomas because he is convinced that he can get it back, like mentally he is convinced he’d get it.
When I talked to people in Boston about what he lost and how he could get that back, they often say that when he was at his best he was indefatigable. He would just run and run and run and get open and make plays. They don’t know if he can still do that.
I don’t know if can even look at what he did last year in Denver, because that was a really tough situation to walk in on a team that was already set at their guard spot. But what have you seen out of him health wise and what do you think he still can be at this point of his career coming off the injuries?
Scott Brooks: There are a couple of things I look at. I watched him last year. He got healthy towards the end of season, but they were rolling, they’re like No. 1 ranked team in the West. And I watched their games. And I knew we were going to be looking for a point guard, and that guy showed so much leadership during games. He was like an assistant coach. He was standing up directing traffic, coming on the court during timeouts and talking to the guys that were playing in front of him.
And to me that’s a sign of a winner. And that’s not easy to do. I’ve been in that position for my entire career, and there were times I didn’t want to cheer for my my teammates. But you have to, you’ve got to do what’s right. And I saw that in him. Will he get it back? I’m not going to be a hater and say he will never get it back. That’s not my wiring and that’s not his wiring. He didn’t get to the NBA thinking that he can’t do it. My mom taught me a long time ago can’t is not a word. She made me write it on a piece of paper, front and back, 10 of them. I can’t is not a word. I can’t is not a word. And I think he believes that as well. I don’t know how good he’s going to be but I can’t wait to see it and work with him every day.
CM: You had a firsthand look at the best of him in the postseason.
SB: Thanks for the memory. He had 53. I told him, ‘You feel good about scoring 53? I don’t see why. You didn’t get John Havlicek’s all-time playoff record. He had 54. I don’t even know if that’s a fact, but I think it’s something like that and he just let that be. Sometimes you just pull things out the players don’t know. They don’t fact check. You know you could just say anything now. So all my former players and current players, I lied my butt off.
CM: But seeing him play that way, what made him special then? What made him so good when he was at the peak of his powers when you were going up against it?
SB: I always look at him and I see toughness. He is tough as nails. And the thing that even before the toughness I see he’s a winner. I’ve seen him in Sacramento and I remember this firsthand. We’re up like 20 in Oklahoma. We were rolling, we were beating a lot of teams that year. And we’re at home and he’s with Sacramento and they were struggling. He came in and almost won the game because he has no quit in him.
And so I always like watching point guard because I played the position. I like to see how players respond in tough situations. You can go into a game and just say, ‘You know what? This game is over. I’m just going to jack it up, take bad shots. It’s about me, I’m gonna get my stats up for my next team.’ But coaches don’t look for that. They want to see guys playing the right way through the last to last minute of a game, and his toughness I marvel at it. He gets knocked on his butt a lot and he gets back up and he has a little swagger to him. He’ll talk back to you and talk some trash to you. I like guys that compete. You can always slow guys down, but when you have a guy that has a high motor of competitive spirit it helps the rest of your team, and he will be a big part of our team.
CM: Are you curious to see if he has that fearlessness still after the injury? Because you’re right, that was one of the characteristics that defined him.
SB: Yeah, I don’t think you ever lose that. He’s not afraid take the last shot. And if you’re really good you’re gonna make in the mid 40s so you’re gonna miss 55 or maybe even 60 percent of them. And the guys that are like IT, Isaiah, he has that in him. He has that it factor. You don’t want him late in the game, and we’re trying to get him back to that. Him and Ish Smith are gonna get a great opportunity to really lead our team, whoever starts or whoever doesn’t start, they both are going to get great opportunities.
CM: Is it a training camp battle to start? How do you see it?
SB: I think it’s just as you go through you want to have it open, and it’s open. But a lot of time a lot of times when it’s open you don’t decide on, ‘OK, this guy beat him out.’ It’s what’s best for the team. And that usually presents itself a lot of times.