WASHINGTON — The Wizards made moves just before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, dealing guard Isaiah Thomas to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Jerome Robinson as part of a three-team trade and sending veteran swingman Jordan McRae to the Denver Nuggets for guard Shabazz Napier, according to people familiar with the transactions.
As part of the three-team Thomas trade, Washington will also send the draft rights of 20-year-old Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon to the New York Knicks.
As expected, however, Washington held on to one of its most attractive assets in Davis Bertans, an upcoming free agent who was recently named one of eight participants in the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend. Although Bertans prompted interest from several playoff contenders, Washington did not get an offer to its liking.
Having kept Bertans, the Wizards will now aim to re-sign him. Washington acquired Bertans in a three-team trade over the summer, and he has averaged career highs in minutes (29.3), points (15) and 3-pointers made per game (3.6). A day before the trade deadline, Bertans did not express concern about his future.
Asked whether he would like to stay in Washington, Bertans responded: “Of course. I love it here.”
With Bertans still in the picture, the Wizards focused on their backcourt and took a chance on two players who have yet to make their marks in the league.
Robinson, who participated in a pre-draft workout with the Wizards before being selected as the 13th overall pick in 2018, appeared in 42 games for the Clippers. On that loaded roster, Robinson could not carve out a niche and logged 20 or more minutes only four times this season.
Napier, 28, has played on five teams in his six-year career. He was traded from the Timberwolves to the Nuggets this week but didn’t play for Denver. Napier appeared in 36 games with the Timberwolves this season, averaging 9.6 points and 5.2 assists per game.
For the outgoing Wizards players, the trade means yet another fresh start.
McRae, who is averaging career highs of 12.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists, won an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 but has searched for consistency in his four-year career. He spent last season as a two-way player with the Wizards and their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go. McRae fractured the tip of his ring finger during this season’s opener and required several procedures, and later experienced setbacks with sprains on both his right and left ankles.
When Thomas, 30, signed with the Wizards this summer, he proclaimed that he had found a team that believed in him. After enduring two years of rehabilitation, Thomas said he felt wanted in Washington and thought he could recapture the magic that made him an MVP runner-up before a hip injury cost him millions of dollars and altered the arc of his once-ascendant career.
“I’m just happy that somebody that’s on the path with me together to show people that I can still play at a high level,” Thomas said in July after agreeing to a one-year, veteran minimum deal with the Wizards.
Seven months later, Washington ended the rocky union.
In 40 games with the Wizards, Thomas averaged about 12.2 points on 40.8% shooting and 3.7 assists a game while filling in as the starting point guard in place of the rehabilitating John Wall. Thomas missed the first two games of the season as his thumb healed from surgery for a ruptured ligament, but he soon entered the starting lineup and remained there despite shaky performances.
Coach Scott Brooks “wants me to play well, obviously, and get what I deserve,” Thomas told reporters early in the season. “And that’s to get paid one day.”
Despite pledging, “I’m going to be an all-star again, for sure,” Thomas never quite became the dynamic scorer that he was during his 2016-17 MVP-caliber season with the Boston Celtics. He moved slower and didn’t have the lift on his floaters, often making his attempts easy prey for shot blockers. He developed a quirky yet effective one-legged, running three-point shot but used it sparingly, attempting 4.8 shots a game from deep, well below his average during his peak.
Thomas, an affable player who engages with fans, landed himself in several difficult situations.
In December, Thomas noticed a Philadelphia 76ers fan holding up both middle fingers and shouting obscenities at him, and he reacted by entering the stands to address the fan and his friend. Although Thomas appeared to admonish the man in a calm manner, he committed a major violation in the view of the NBA.
Thomas defended his actions but expressed no regret for handling the situation as he saw fit, and was suspended two games by the league. Thomas had to sit at a time when the Wizards had seven players out with injuries.
On Jan. 3, Thomas again found himself on the wrong side of league rules. Two minutes into a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Thomas “made inappropriate contact” with an official, Marat Kogut. When Thomas extended his right hand into Kogut’s chest — though he said the contact was unintentional — the move was interpreted as a shove, and Thomas was ejected for the second time in two weeks. The Wizards, still facing a deficit of healthy players, lost by 19 points.
Despite the two incidents, the Wizards did not view Thomas as a distraction, according to several people affiliated with the team.
Washington should expect some additional changes over the remaining 33 games of the regular season. The team has already adapted to new starting lineups and adjusted rotations due to injuries frequently impacting the roster. More depth should arrive soon, despite Thomas Bryant suffering a setback in his recovery from a foot injury.
“Whether the lineup changes, that remains to be seen,” Brooks said, “but there’s definitely going to be minutes changes.”