Miami Heat center Kelly Olynyk said he reached out to former Celtics teammate and two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas before he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair his right hip Thursday in New York.
“I played with him for three years,” Olynyk said. “Unbelievable dude. He helped us immensely. He’s just been in a real tough situation. It’s been a tough year especially at the time of his career when things were looking so bright.”
Thomas, 29, an unrestricted free agent after this season, will reportedly need four months to recover from surgery. He was an MVP candidate for most of last season and on a path toward signing a max contract with Boston.
Then, his younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident right as the playoffs were starting. With a heavy heart, Thomas led Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals despite his hip injury.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Celtics then traded him to Cleveland in the offseason for Kyrie Irving before the Cavaliers shipped Thomas to the Lakers at the trade deadline. Thomas played in only 32 games this season (he averaged 15.6 points and 5.0 assists with the Lakers) and now faces the prospect of facing a tough summer in free agency.
ESPN, though, reported the Lakers will consider signing Thomas to a one-year deal if its pursuit of LeBron James and Paul George doesn’t materialize this summer. The Lakers have told Thomas he is free to use their facilities as he recovers from surgery.
“I don’t know what will happen in terms of his contract, but he deserves to make money in this game,” said Olynyk, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Heat this summer. “He’s brought a lot to the game, brought a lot to that city in Boston. Anywhere he goes, he gives his heart and soul to the game of basketball.
“Last year, [during our playoff run] we didn’t know it, but he was sacrificing his own career for everybody in that city. No one knew that at the time. If you look back a year now, he literally sacrificed his career, his earnings, everything for that stretch. And then to get traded and get traded again and now to have surgery, I don’t know if he has any regrets or looks at it a different way, but you just wish him the best. Good people deserve good things in this world and hopefully it comes for him.”
It’s unclear if the Heat would have any interest in signing Thomas this summer, especially because of the severity of his injury, but he could present an intriguing option if three-point specialist Wayne Ellington, having a career season, becomes too expensive in free agency.
Barring trades, Miami has 11 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due $119.1 million — well over the projected $101 million cap and close to the projected $123 million tax threshold. That figure will increase by $1 million if Olynyk plays 1,700 minutes, leaving the Heat at $120.1 million in commitments. He’s at 1,659 minutes after Thursday’s win over the Bulls.
Miami could use either a $5.5 million taxpayer midlevel exception or a full $8.8 million mid-level exception to sign a player it really likes this summer. It’s difficult to see the Heat using the exception, though, without shedding some salary.