Charlotte Hornets Sign Isaiah Thomas For Remainder Of Season

Mar 16, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Isaiah Thomas and the Charlotte Hornets found each other at the perfect time. And late Monday night, hours after another solid performance from Thomas (and another Hornets win), Charlotte signed the two-time All-Star for the remainder of the season, meaning one of the feel-good stories of the NBA season will continue for at least a dozen more games.

For Thomas, a once-thrilling career that provided numerous electric moments– most coming during his time with the Boston Celtics– seemed to be winding down to a rather desolate and anticlimactic ending. After a lingering hip injury caused Thomas to lose some of the quickness he relied on so heavily during the peak of his career, he bounced around the basketball world for a few years, playing in the FIBA AmeriCup with USA Basketball, briefly lighting up the G-League, and signing a few 10-day NBA deals. After stints in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Denver all ended unceremoniously for IT, the writing was on the wall. Without another team taking a chance on him this season, his NBA career would likely be finished.

Enter, the Charlotte Hornets. In mid-January, Charlotte looked like a legit upstart team in the Eastern Conference, a team that would undoubtedly be a pest in the first round of the playoffs thanks to a nonstop, high-flying offensive attack led by LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, and Terry Rozier. The Hornets were putting up some gaudy offensive numbers and playing with so much confidence; they seemed to be on a direct flight to the moon.

Then, by the first week of March, Charlotte had fallen below .500, the vibes of the team were heinously off-kilter, and completely missing out on even the play-in game looked like a real possibility. A young team struggling with consistency isn’t a novel concept, and the Hornets have been rather up-and-down all year long. But their record of 2-12 from January 30-February 28 had fans (including the author of this piece, admittedly) worrying that this “slump” was more than just another bump in the road.

While trade deadline acquisition Montrezl Harrell quickly hustled his way into Hornets’ fans hearts, Ish Smith’s departure in that same trade shaved the Hornets roster even thinner of primary ball handlers than it already was. They clearly needed to add a backup point guard. Possibly more importantly, they needed to change the “mojo” of the season.

So what happens when a young team who desperately needs a spark meets a knowledgeable, inspiriting veteran, hopeful for one more chance? Well, in this particular case, both sides find exactly what they are looking for. For Charlotte, that’s a backup PG who can bolster the second unit and provide real veteran leadership. For Thomas, it’s simply a new home that will let him play.

Since signing Thomas, the Hornets are 7-2 and are back to two games over .500 after beating New Orleans 106-103 on Monday. In just 14 minutes of action, Thomas scored 15 points, his highest output since joining the team on March 2nd. I wrote a piece earlier in the season breaking down what “Hornets Culture” might look like, and I mentioned the word “balance.” Isaiah Thomas bringing the fun back to Uptown Charlotte may be the best example of “Hornets Culture” I can think of, because he has perfectly balanced his role as a mentor with his role as a player.

Thomas has not been a world-beater in his seven games with the Hornets, but he has been exactly what the Hornets have needed him to be. He’s averaged 9.9 points, 2.0 assists, and shot 48% from three-point range, and more importantly, he seamlessly integrated himself into the Hornets’ locker room.

Thomas has always been a roundly loved player throughout the NBA. The Hornets young core welcoming him with open arms while also being willing to listen when Thomas teaches on some of the nuances of the league that LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, or any of the Hornets cast of youngsters might still be learning about, speaks volumes about what IT has provided on and off the court in his few-week tenure with Charlotte.

Charlotte’s success in recent weeks cannot be solely attributed to Thomas, obviously; a team getting hot is due to the combination of multiple factors, and if the Hornets start to struggle again, the onus won’t fall on his shoulders. For the Hornets, Terry Rozier has been unconscious all month, averaging 23.3 points per game on 51/46/96 shooting splits. The body language, the confidence, and the effort level of the entire Hornets roster, however, absolutely all shot up when Thomas joined the roster.

With the Hornets currently sitting at ninth in the Eastern Conference, they’re likely to take part in their second straight play-in game. Barring a catastrophic last ten games or a major collapse from Cleveland or Chicago, the Hornets will fight for a playoff spot in the NBA’s newest postseason format. Thomas will not shoot forty-eight percent from three-point range his entire time with the Hornets, but consistently contributing on a team looking for their first playoff appearance in six years is all Charlotte and its fans can hope for out of the thirty-three year old.

Signing Thomas for the rest of the season was a no-brainer for Mitch Kupchack and the Hornets brass. IT’s production on the court, mixed with his “mentoring” of Lamelo Ball behind the scenes, is so much more helpful than any franchise could ask of a player signed to a 10-day contract. The roster spot he is occupying could not be getting more use. Isaiah Thomas has been a star for the Hornets, and his actual play on the court only tells half the story.

Next. Can Kai Jones Become A Superstar For The Charlotte Hornets?. dark