One year ago this week, Isaiah Thomas was on his way to the All-Star game in a season where he went on to be fifth in MVP voting and being an All-NBA player.
This year he’s coming off a hip injury that sidelined him for the first half of the season, and Thomas has been a shell of the player he was last season. Add to that the waves he was creating in the Cleveland and the Cavaliers front office felt it couldn’t wait any longer and had to move on — they traded him to the Lakers.
Thomas said he did not see that coming before his first game in a Los Angeles uniform, as reported by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.
Thomas, who averaged 14.7 points and 4.5 assists in his first 15 games back from a hip injury with Cleveland, said he was “shocked” at being traded Thursday.
“It was a surprise, but at the same time, I am happy to have a new start,” Thomas said. “I am happy to be here with the Lakers, happy to be with a young team that is exciting, that likes to get up and down. That’s my style of play. I am here to help in any way possible. It’s a fresh start for me. I am excited.”
“It kind of reminds me of the same situation when I got traded to Boston: It was a young team that was thinking rebuild, but we had some different thoughts than that and we made a push to the playoffs. That is my job, to come to this team and bring that spirit, that fire, that killer’s mentality and just understand that we can take advantage of this opportunity that we have [the rest of] the season. It’s about winning and it is about winning right now.”
It’s about right now for Thomas, who is a free agent this summer and is playing for his next contract. This summer is his big kick at the can. He needs to show he’s healthy and closer to his old self to earn anything near the kind of payday he envisioned.
Part of that also means fitting in with the Lakers. While his agent said IT wanted to start or get bought out, Thomas himself said all the right things before his debut (yes, he wants to start, but he wants to do what’s best for the team more). He needs to. In addition to playing terribly in Cleveland, he was divisive in the locker room, and that can hurt his value even more. Play well in Los Angeles, be a good teammate, and it can help change the perception.
Thomas could be a gunner sixth man for the Lakers the rest of this season, put up numbers and get back to the fan-favorite status he has had in every stop from Sacramento to Boston (just not in Cleveland). That guy gets a healthy paycheck, nothing near what he would have gotten a year ago, but still bigger than he has ever seen.