Isaiah Thomas held his Elite Youth Camp in Rocklin this week. The camp brought Thomas back to Sacramento after the free agency period landed him a four-year, $28 million contract with the Phoenix Suns.
At his camp, Thomas taught kids ages 6-16 basketball fundamentals and how to have fun while playing. He also put an emphasis on being a good teammate, he said. His camp is from Monday through Thursday, but the former King is in Sacramento until Friday as he moves things out of his house and prepares for the transition into his new basketball life.
The ever-approachable Thomas was kind enough to answer some questions for Sactown Royalty. Below are excerpts from the interview, in which we discussed everything from Darren Collison to his future with Pizza Guys and their popular commercials with him.
What was going through your mind when you heard the Kings were going to sign Darren Collison?
When they did that, I knew I wasn't coming back. Going into my fourth year, I felt like I kind of proved myself to be a starter, especially on the Sacramento Kings and like I told them, coach Malone, who was one of my biggest fans and the best coaches that I have had in my three years in the NBA, I told him if you bring somebody in better than me I'm just going to compete, I understand if you bring somebody like Chris Paul that's somebody that I'm not going to start over no matter what, I'm going to play my role and I'm going to compete. But if you bring in somebody, a draft pick or somebody that's just not better than me I feel like it is disrespectful. When they picked Darren Collison, I felt like it was time for me to move on.
So say the Kings had matched the Suns' offer and ended up keeping you, would you have been OK coming back to Sacramento given the circumstances?
If it was competition, if it was training camp starts and the best man may win, I would be happy. I'm a professional though, so no matter what happens, I'm going to stay professional, I'm going to do my job and I'm going to play my role, but I would have definitely been upset if it wouldn't have been no competition, especially if it's somebody who is not better than me.
You say that you are OK coming off the bench if the guy in front of you is better than you. How many guys in this league are better than you in your eyes?
I don't think nobody is better than me, honestly. But nah, there are certain guys that no matter who comes in, he's going to start: Chris Paul, Steph Curry, [Russell] Westbrook - those types of guys, All-Star caliber guys. Like I said, if you're not bringing guys in that made the All-Star team or the Olympic team or stuff like that, I feel like I'm better than them.
When you had your exit interview with the Kings what was said?
I had two different ones. I had one with Mike Malone and one with Chris Mullin and Pete [D'Alessandro], and they said they wanted me back. They want me back, they know it's a business and at the end of the day I got to do what's best for me. That's what it came down to, so when the time came, it didn't feel like they really wanted me back as much as they said in previous times. At the end of the day, I know it's a business, there's no hard feelings, they had to do what they had to do and what they felt was best for the Sacramento Kings, and I had to do what I had to do.
Obviously, this is a different front office and everything changed while you were in Sacramento, but do you respect the fact that the Kings were the team that drafted you?
No doubt. I respect the Sacramento Kings, I got the upmost respect for them, they're the ones that gave me a chance before anybody did so I would never put down the Sacramento Kings front office, or anybody in that organization because they welcomed me with open arms. So when I say I felt disrespected, I just felt like the way I played the game of basketball wasn't appreciated. So they always say you don't know what you got until it's gone, and I feel like that's going to happen.
On the floor last season, you guys won 28 games. What was missing?
Just trust, I think that's the biggest thing. For whatever reason we didn't trust each other. When things hit the fan, when things went bad in games we kind of went our separate ways and you can't win in the NBA like that and that's how it's been my whole three years - it's been up and down. But the group of players is talented man, you can ask anybody in the NBA, that Sacramento Kings group, we competed and on any given night we can beat any team. But one thing about being in the NBA is you've got to be consistent and we were definitely an inconsistent basketball team.
What have the Suns told you about how you can fit it in with what they are trying to do there?
If Bledsoe comes back, basically it's a three-guard rotation. They said ‘you're going to have a big role in whatever we do,' and that's what I wanted most, I wanted to be a big part of something. And I know they won 48 games last year, they were one game out of the NBA playoffs, and that's big. And I told them, when it comes to winning, I'll set everything aside because at the end of the day, you're judged by how many wins you have and how far you can take your basketball team. So like I said, if Eric Bledsoe does come back it'll be a three-guard rotation with us playing, they said there will always be two of us on the floor. They didn't really say nothing about starting or coming off the bench and I'm happy with that. They didn't tell me what I wanted to hear, ‘you're going to start from day one,' no, you're going to come in and compete and you're going to have a big role on this team.
How do you see it working? You guys are all three different types of players.
I think it's going to be good because, like you said, we're all three different basketball players. We don't do really nothing the same other than me and Dragic being left handed. We attack very differently, we're very aggressive in our different ways and we go about our games a lot different, so I think it is going to be tough for teams to guard that because you can't really scout three, aggressive, good guards that are proven in the NBA.
You and Mayor Kevin Johnson had some back and forth on Twitter after the Phoenix deal was announced. Talk about your relationship with him.
We talked throughout the whole free agency process. He's been a big mentor of mine since day one, I actually met him before I ever stepped foot on a Sacramento basketball court and he's been by my side since day one and I can't thank him enough. He's been a guy that sometimes we talk at 2 or 3 in the morning and it doesn't have to be about basketball. Like I said, his character is more than basketball man, he's a great person and I can't thank him enough and I'm going to keep him in my phone book and I'm going to keep talking to him and keep learning from him.
What are you guys talking about at 2 and 3 in the morning?
Sometimes he talks about the city council meetings, things like that - things that I can help out in Sacramento. He doesn't just always hit me up about basketball because he knows being a basketball player that is what most people hit you up about. We'll talk about everything. How I can help with the community, how I can help with the education system in Sacramento and all sorts of things...he was very upset when I didn't become a Sacramento King.
Having played for a couple of different coaches in Sacramento, do you think that that area of the Kings is finally on the right path with Malone?
Yeah, you can say that. I mean Mike Malone and his coaching staff is the best coaching staff I've had. No disrespect to all of the other coaches that coached me, but they just knew their stuff and I tell people all the time, I hope people don't blame 28 wins on the coaching staff because they did their part. We just as players didn't do our part every night and that's what as players you've got to look yourself in the mirror every day say, ‘am I doing what I can to help this team?' And I don't think we did that every night.
During the free agency period, did you talk to DeMarcus [Cousins] and Rudy [Gay] much?
I didn't. I didn't actually talk to nobody.
Just went silent?
They didn't reach out to me. They only reached out when I signed my deal so I mean I had a feeling, I kind of knew I wasn't coming back. Other than coming back for Mike Malone, I didn't think nobody really wanted me, like they wanted Darren Collison. Not like that, but I mean, they picked Darren Collison the second day of free agency. He's a good player; I hope the best for him and the Sacramento Kings, honestly.
Do you think DeMarcus is the best center in the league?
No doubt, skill-wise nobody can mess with him. I think the thing he has to work on most is being a leader and learning how to lead and not by just scoring the most points or getting the most rebounds, but being that example on the practice floor and in the game.
Did you see much progression in that area of his game over the three seasons you played with him, or do you think there is still room for improvement?
There's still a lot of room for improvement, on the leadership side … I think if he ran the floor a little more, he would make the game a lot easier for him. But other than that, I don't really say too much about his game because his skillset, he's the best big man in the league. But to take it to the next level and take his team to the next level, I think he needs to become a better leader.
Do you have a favorite memory on the floor as a King?
I don't think it's just a specific game, just the whole experience. It was different from I think anybody else's because three different coaches in three years, front office changing, the arena situation, us maybe moving to Seattle, all of that plays a part in the whole experience and I wouldn't change it for anything. I tell everybody I love Sacramento, I always will love Sacramento, but when we play them I'm going to kill Sacramento.
So what is your prediction on your stat line in that first game against the Kings?
I don't got no prediction, I'm just going to play very hard man. I'm going to leave it all out on the floor like I always do, but that definitely will be a game that I mark on my calendar.
What is the latest with Pizza Guys, are you still working with them?
We're done. I'm probably going to partner with them in the future, they're trying to do some things up in the northwest so we're going to keep that relationship going...they're always at all of my events so I can't thank them enough, I appreciate them. I was joking around with them because when I go places, people call me the Pizza Guy before they say Isaiah or Isaiah Thomas.