Thomas chose Nuggets because of Malone: 'I trust him'
Rocky Widner / National Basketball Association / Getty

LAS VEGAS - As it turns out, Denver Nuggets fans have coach Michael Malone to thank for the team's signing of two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas this offseason.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Thomas signed for the veteran's minimum (just over $2 million for a player with seven years of experience), even though there reportedly weren't competing offers on the table. After all, there was ample talk as recently as 2017 that the 29-year-old was a potential max-salary player.

Malone, Thomas told theScore matter-of-factly after a Team USA minicamp practice at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on Thursday, is why he took the bargain-bin deal.

"I trust him, and he trusts me," Thomas said.

"I was just looking for an opportunity with somebody that's gonna let me be who I am. (Malone)'s one of the first guys in this league to love me for who I am, and gave me the opportunity to go out there and play freely. I know he's going to give me that opportunity in Denver."

After averaging 12.8 points in 26 minutes per game in his first two seasons with the Kings under Paul Westphal and Keith Smart, Thomas averaged 20.3 points in a career-high 34.7 minutes during his lone season playing for Malone.

Thomas later became an All-NBA guard and MVP candidate in Boston. But he saw his value as a free agent deteriorate due to a right hip injury that cut his 2017 postseason short, limiting him to just 32 games in 2017-18 and requiring arthroscopic surgery in March.

Injury concerns are always troubling for a pending free agent, but doubly so when the player in question is a 5-foot-9 guard whose very NBA existence, let alone stardom, already defied logic.

"It's always going to be an uphill battle," Thomas says.

"There's not a lot of guys like myself in the NBA. There's not a lot of guys like myself that have ever made it to the NBA. So every year, it's always going to be a battle, because it's not the norm, and I understand that. I'm fine with it. It sucks that I have to keep proving people wrong, but that's just my story."

In addition to rebuilding his value and trying to help the Nuggets end a five-year playoff drought, Thomas is also looking forward to working with and mentoring the budding starter ahead of him on Denver's depth chart.

"Jamal (Murray) is a great young talent, and I'm gonna do whatever I can to help him take that next jump, that next step, and get even better. I can't wait to be able to do that," Thomas said. "I'm still young, but I've seen a lot in this league. I'm here to help in any way I can."

When asked if Malone verbalized how, exactly, he wants Thomas to help a Nuggets team that was eliminated from postseason contention on the final night of the regular season, Thomas offers few details.

"Be who I am. That's the only reason why I chose Denver. I know (Malone)'s gonna allow me to be Isaiah Thomas."

And who is Isaiah Thomas, the basketball player, in his own words?

"If you don't know, then you don't watch TV," Thomas laughs. "I am who I am, and that's who I'm gonna be."

That's all Mike Malone is asking for.

Thomas chose Nuggets because of Malone: 'I trust him'
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