The former Celtics guard, who was hoping to land a hefty deal after his sensational 2016-17 season, had to settle for a one-year, $2 million contract with the Denver Nuggets.
He kept using the same line whenever talking about becoming a free agent in the summer of 2018.
“They better bring out the Brink’s truck,’’ is what Isaiah Thomas would say, looking forward to cashing in once his four-year, $27-million deal expired.
Indeed, Thomas seemed to be on his way to a hefty payday after the 2016-17 season he put together for the Celtics, leading them to the Eastern Conference finals.
The undersized point guard tied John Havlicek for the second-best scoring average in team history with 28.9 points per game, trailing only Larry Bird’s 29.9 points in the 1987-88 season.
He was the king of the fourth quarter, going on numerous late-game scoring binges to lead the Celtics to victories, making acrobatic plays on drives to the basket.
And he put on some inspirational performances in the playoffs after the death of his younger sister, Chyna, in a car accident the day before the postseason opener.
Thomas made the All-NBA second team, joining Stephen Curry in the backcourt behind James Harden and Russell Westbrook. He finished third in scoring, trailing Westbrook and Harden, and was fifth in the most valuable player voting in back of Westbrook, Harden, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
Yes, Thomas seemed to be on the road to making some big money, going from the final player selected in the 2011 draft to signing a contract worth at least $100 million.
Instead, the 29-year-old Thomas will be playing the 2018-19 season on a one-year, $2-million deal, agreeing to join the Denver Nuggets for the NBA’s veteran’s minimum, it was reported late Thursday night.
The player who was such a dominant force for the Celtics in that 2016-17 season will be coming off the Nuggets’ bench on a team that starts Jamal Murray and Gary Harris in the backcourt.
Thomas wanted to be a max-contract player, and the bidding was probably going to be starting around five years and $100 million, but he had to take a pay cut to land a job, and will now hope to cash in a year from now if he excels in Denver.
Everything turned for Thomas during the conference finals against the Cavaliers in 2017 when he was forced to call it a season at halftime of Game 2.
A hip injury that had been bothering Thomas since he took a fall in a March game against the Minnesota Timberwolves became too painful, and the Celtics kept him in the locker room when the third quarter started, then ruled him out for the rest of the series.
Since that night, Thomas has gone through drastic changes in his career, starting with a stunning trade last August in which the Celtics sent him to the Cavaliers as part of a package for Kyrie Irving.
After his remarkable season with the Celtics and dealing with the death of his sister during the playoffs, Thomas was shocked to be moved and blasted president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
“What he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right,’’ Thomas told Sports Illustrated. “But every team in this situation comes out a year or two later and says, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s what they’ll say, too.”
For Ainge, it was a trade that he had to make, knowing that the hip injury was probably going to limit Thomas and knowing he had a chance to obtain a game changer in Irving.
“He was a great Celtic,” said Ainge at the time. “Everybody that watched him play or has been with him in the locker room for the last few years will remember how great he was. He will be a part of Celtic history forever.”
Thomas’ stay in Cleveland was brief. The hip was not healed and he got a late start to the 2017-18 season, then didn’t mesh with James and Co.
The Cavaliers dealt him after just 15 points (14.7 points on 36 percent shooting) to the Los Angeles Lakers in February, but after only 17 games (and one start), Thomas underwent hip surgery.
With James signing in LA, there was no way Thomas was returning to the Lakers, so he had to look elsewhere, and has reunited with one of his former coaches in Sacramento, Mike Malone.
Thomas is a long way away from that magical 2016-17 season that he had with the Celtics. As was the case when he was picked No. 60, Thomas will be playing this season with a huge chip on his shoulder, looking to get back on track.
He thought that Boston was going to be home and played a major role in recruiting Gordon Hayward a year ago, but nothing has gone according to plan and the Brink’s truck did not show up.
Jim Fenton may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JFenton_ent.