Just last season, Isaiah Thomas finished fifth in MVP voting. You could hear the beeping as his Brinks truck backed up.
Yesterday, the Cavaliers traded him – seemingly more as an expiring contract than basketball player – to the Lakers, a team that already has a franchise point guard in Lonzo Ball.
Rachel Nichols on ESPN:
I’ve been texting with Isaiah Thomas’ agent, and he says in capital letters: “HE IS NOT COMING OFF THE BENCH.” The idea is that they would a buyout, maybe, before they did something like that.
Johnson and Pelinka made it clear that Thomas will play for the Lakers and that management can see him mentoring and playing alongside rookie point guard Lonzo Ball. Johnson said Ball remains the team’s starting point guard but that the Lakers need someone to fill the role while Ball is out with a sprained MCL.
“We talked to him. He’s so excited,” Johnson said of Thomas. “He said his father was born and raised in Inglewood so he’s really excited, and also right now Zo’s hurt. We need a point guard. So especially with that type of experience and the fact that he can score the basketball and pass it, we want to get him in here fast. We told him that. … We need somebody to come in there and lead our troops.”
“It’s not about starting, it’s about how many minutes you get,” Johnson added. “He’s going to get a lot of minutes.”
Thomas’ agent, Aaron Goodwin, via Sam Amick of USA Today:
Once he spoke to (Lakers president of basketball operations) Magic (Johnson) and (general manager) Rob (Pelinka), he was ecstatic about the opportunity. It’s clear that he’ll get a chance to play, and play up-tempo like he has played throughout his career. And that’s all we can ask for. That was our biggest concern.
This situation takes care of itself while Ball is still sidelined. After that? It’s unclear exactly where Thomas falls between just being initially upset about the trade then calming down and holding a sustaining, complete opposition to coming off the bench.
Thomas and Ball can play together in that Ball is tall enough to defend multiple positions (though not necessarily well at this stage of his career) and Thomas can’t defend anyone. Offensively, there’s probably too much overlap between the primary ball-handlers, though Ball cuts well off the ball.
Starting is often about pride, and Thomas has plenty. Even with significant playing time, he might balk at a reserve role. And when Thomas is unhappy, he’s not one to stay silent.
Thomas is running out of time to prove himself before free agency. He was dreadful in Cleveland as he returned from a hip injury, and the Lakers’ season will end months before the Cavs’. A big payday, already, an uphill battle battle, became even more unlikely with yesterday’s trade.
In the end, Thomas will probably do what the Lakers ask. What choice does he have? He’s due just $2,193,257 the rest of the season. Even if he volunteered to relinquish all that, is it enough for the Lakers to accept a buyout?
Thomas worked his tail off to become a star while still locked into a relatively low-paying contract, played through injury then got traded twice – now to a team with a point guard it already believes in. I empathize with him.
But, at this point, his best way to maximize future earnings is playing well whatever role the Lakers give him.