The guard, who has been rehabbing from a hip injury, will come off the bench, will be on a minute restriction and will not play the next night against the Boston Celtics — his old team.
“It’s a blessing,” Thomas said. “It’s been a long process for me. It’s been a frustrating and tough process but at the same time you got to trust it. Each and every day, I just attacked it every day to try to get better and now that day is here. I haven’t played in so long so man, it’s going to be a weird feeling tomorrow but I’m happy. I’m happy it’s here.”
Thomas participated in a full-court scrimmage Friday against his Cavs teammates for the first time since the point guard was acquired in a trade from the Celtics for Kyrie Irving over the summer. Cleveland held another practice on New Year’s Day in order to scrimmage again as a final tune-up for the two-time All-Star.
Lue said Thomas can give his team a much-needed lift, with Cleveland scuffling a bit having lost four of its last five games.
“It’s great,” Lue said. “(It was) always like, ‘Is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?’ But now it’s finally here and just seeing how he can play with pace and getting into the paint, the speed and quickness and ability to shoot the basketball, it really changes our team. Really excited (in the growth) from Day 1 to now. It’s a good moment for us.”
Lue would not provide any specifics on what the range of Thomas’ minute restriction will be, how long he will come off the bench or how long he will be ruled out of both legs of back-to-backs — the limitation that will keep him on the sideline in Boston.
A source told ESPN that Thomas would be held to 8-to-12 minutes in his debut.
“I know it’s going to take time at first and we got to go through the steps of going out there and playing in the game and figuring those things out but once I get comfortable then all the restrictions got to be off soon,” Thomas said.
Thomas was asked to compare how his body feels now compared to prior to suffering his hip injury in March and aggravating it during the playoffs.
“I mean, my hip is better but I have no rhythm,” he said. “I have no feel for the game right now. I’ve been out for so long it feels like I lost my powers. So even when we’re out there scrimmaging I can move around and do what I want but I just don’t have my powers yet.”
The prospect of playing against Irving on the Garden parquet is something that gets Thomas’ energy up; he couldn’t help but break into a wide smile on Friday when a reporter mentioned the upcoming Celtics game. However, he’ll have to wait until the Cavs’ game in Boston on Feb. 11.
“It won’t be that tough,” Thomas said of sitting out Wednesday’s game. “I know where I am right now and I wouldn’t want to put myself out there to just try to force it. But I can wait until February. I think we play them in February again so I can wait and put on a show then.”
The Celtics are sure to honor Thomas with some sort of video tribute during Wednesday’s game, regardless of whether he is in the lineup or not.
“I know it will be all love,” Thomas said. “I keep saying that I gave that city everything I had and they showed me genuine love back and I think that love is going to last forever. So, there’s no hard feelings. This ain’t no revenge game. They know what they gave up. They knew what they got. It’s all good. I’m focused on the Cleveland Cavaliers and trying to win a championship.”
Thomas was knocked out of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals with the injury, was shockingly traded in the offseason and has been steadily working his way back.
“I never took the game for granted,” said Thomas, the former 60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft. “I was always one that just wanted to be the best I possibly could. Get everything out of this game I possibly could. But, I mean, for being 28 years old and this being the first time I’ve ever been really hurt and had to sit down, it made you appreciate it even more and I definitely don’t take it for granted. This made me a better basketball player, a better person mentally and physically. So, it should be something special in 2018.”