LAS VEGAS – If Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving depart from the Brooklyn Nets, perhaps the player who will be most affected by it will be young guard Cam Thomas for several reasons.
“I never even expected to come into a situation like Brooklyn, where I had Kyrie and KD take me under their wing,” Thomas told Andscape.
Durant asked for a trade recently after Irving showed interest in being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. Time will tell when and where or if both of these NBA stars under contract will be traded by the beginning of next season.
Thomas is taking all the rumors and potential changes in stride while playing for the Nets at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League.
“I try to stay away from them, but of course you look here and there and see what’s going on with your team,” Thomas said of the trade rumors. “I try to stay away from that because you never know what could happen. Anybody can get traded. So, I try to stay away from them as much as I can, and just keep working on what the coach wants me to work on, even though that might change depending on who we have. I just want to keep working on what I’ve been working on, honestly.”
Perhaps the highlight, and most beneficial part, of Thomas’ rookie season was the countless hours he spent with Durant and Irving. Those moments meant a lot to Thomas because they involved him naturally after seeing that he was a gym rat like them.
“He’s competitive,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said. “He would work out with the vets daily and they helped him with his craft.”
Thomas said Durant was like a “big brother” to him, working out together on the court and getting mentored off it. Even with Durant’s Nets situation in a state of flux, Thomas says, they still talk regularly. Thomas added that Irving has taught him to “stay levelheaded no matter what you’re going through,” while encouraging Thomas to continue to work hard when he was not playing or was in the G League during his rookie season.
“They have no reason to help me, but for them to take me under their wing, and talk to me, take me in, I feel like I have to cherish that the rest of my career because I was only a rookie last year, 19, 20 years old,” Thomas said. “So for them to believe in me like that and trust me, and look at me as one of the guys, is great. So, I’ll definitely cherish that.”
Durant’s and Irving’s mentoring has certainly appeared to be paying dividends for Thomas. Thomas entered Wednesday as the Vegas Summer League’s leading scorer, averaging 28.7 points through three contests, and is playing more of a leadership role for the Nets’ summer league team. Thomas has also averaged 11.3 made free throws, 4.0 assists, 1.7 turnovers and 1.0 steals in 29.4 minutes.
Thomas first got the Nets’ notice when he averaged 23 points and scored 25 or more points 16 times as a true freshman with Louisiana State University during the 2020-21 season. Thomas was the leading scorer among Division I freshmen and led the nation in free throws made (194). Despite being projected as a top-20 pick, the combo guard fell to the Nets with the 27th overall selection.
“What stood out at LSU was his confidence,” Marks said. “He had that with us whether he played 10 minutes or more. He is a big-time player who doesn’t run away from the big shot.”
Thomas averaged 8.5 points and 2.4 assists while playing 17.6 minutes per game as a rookie. There were also 15 games where he was listed as “Did Not Play,” “Inactive” or “Did Not Dress.” Thomas’ best month came in February when he averaged 16.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists, including a career-high 30-point game against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 4. Thomas, who is 6-3 and 210 pounds, also played for the G League Long Island Nets.
“When I had that two-week stretch of playing, where I averaged like 21 a game, that was probably my highest point,” Thomas said. “My lowest is just not playing some games. I’ve never not played ever, so that was the most challenging part. But you learn from it. You take everything that they want you to improve on so you can get on the floor.”
Thomas also got a lesson on the business of basketball during his rookie season. NBA All-Star James Harden requested a trade from the Nets. The Nets obliged, trading Harden and Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks, completing the blockbuster deal that consumed the NBA world’s attention for weeks. Simmons also had requested a trade from the Sixers.
“I’d probably say I learned about the business when we made the trade with James and Ben,” Thomas said. “Everything was crazy. You hear stuff about when somebody wants out. And they both wanted out of where they were. Maybe you hear they’d make a big trade like that. I’d probably say that’s when I really learned that it’s a business side.”
When asked about his goals for next season, Thomas said: “Just keep improving, man.
“Whatever it is, on the floor or off the floor, I just want to keep improving as much as I can,” Thomas said. “On the floor, play a lot more than I did my rookie year, and off the floor, just become a better person.”
Added Marks: “The next step is making sure there is also an understanding on defensive end and not be one-dimensional. Offense is easy for him. Now it’s how can he make everyone better and not force shots. The defense part is where he will hunker down.”