Isaiah Thomas was a legitimate MVP candidate last season for the Boston Celtics. He’s gone from the 60th overall pick seven years ago to a starting point guard in the NBA. When healthy, Thomas is a real weapon. He’s not a bench player.
But as NBA players like to do — and as Thomas takes slights against him very seriously — it appears there’s some question surrounding whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers guard is a starter. At least, Thomas seems to think so. This likely comes from the fact that since being traded to the Lakers, Thomas has played in 14 games but started in just one.
LA is trying to develop their young talent, which shifted after the mega-deal that sent Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers. Thomas is due a new contract this summer, and he doesn’t appear to be part of the future in LA.
So, coach Luke Walton is bringing him off the bench. That, and his play has remained erratic. Thomas has evened out a little bit, but he’s still shooting just 39.5 percent from the field over the last 10 games. Not exactly MVP-caliber stuff.
Given Thomas’ history and his status with the Lakers, there’s some obvious friction. Thomas doesn’t want to be labeled a bench player, not when he’s trying to get some team to back up the Brinks truck for a big, new deal.
In an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick, Thomas stated something that most of us already know but he felt needed to be said again: he’s not a sixth man.
Via USA Today:
“I’m not no sixth man,” he declared in an interview with USA TODAY Sports this week. “And I won’t be a sixth man (in the future). I just want everybody to know that, like clear as can be. I’m a two-time All-Star and a starter who has done things that a lot of people in this league haven’t done (when) given that opportunity.
“But I got traded into a situation I can’t control. There’s nothing bad against (Lakers coach) Luke Walton. There’s nothing bad against the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity they’ve given me, and then (we’ll) end the season off strong.”
For his part, Walton full acknowledged the strategy the Lakers are taking with Thomas.
“Could he start?” Walton said of Thomas. “One hundred percent. Does he deserve to start? Yeah, with what he’s done in his career. Absolutely. (But) we’re in a unique situation here. We have a young team. … I kind of just challenged (Thomas), that even though he fully wants to start, I said, ‘Look, you’ve been out a long time, (and) to me there’s only, however much, two months left in the season at the time – find the joy. Go find the (joy).
I do wonder, with all that’s gone on with IT, what team will be willing to take him on at a salary he feels he deserves while also giving him the role he wants? Thomas seemed happy in Boston, but that took some time to work out. We remember his stints with Phoenix and Sacramento, and the interpersonal aspect of free agency might come in to play just as much as the dollar-by-dollar negotiation.
Thomas isn’t a sixth man-type of player, although his hip injury has severely limited him both in ability and his rhythm when it comes to playing in the NBA. His defense is enough of a liability that for now, unless he’s playing at a high level offensively he’s not worth signing to a big contract or playing considerable minutes. Thomas’ box plus-minus has dipped significantly year-over-year, and his DBPM with LA is -4.3.
IT is right in that he isn’t a sixth man guy. He’s not good enough when he’s playing badly to warrant that kind of accolade, and when he’s playing well he’s one of the best scoring guards in the league.