The Los Angeles Lakers did not trade for Isaiah Thomas with the intention of making him the starting point guard at the expense of Lonzo Ball.
This really shouldn’t even be a question, and yet, for a hot minute, it absolutely was. His agent, Aaron Goodwin, told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols immediately after the trade that Thomas, who made just 15 appearances with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, is a starter:
1/Key thing to remember about Isaiah Thomas' agent texting me that IT doesn't want to come off the bench w/the Lakers, would maybe even consider a buyout in that case: it's Aaron Goodwin's job to fight like hell for his client to start in the best possible spot when he gets to LA
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) February 8, 2018
Was this just agent-speak—someone sticking up for his client in advance of free agency? Does Goodwin really think Thomas will grapple with the prospect of coming off the bench?
It doesn’t matter. Because Lakers president Magic Johnson already has a plan in mind—one that doesn’t involve benching Ball, who has recently missed time with a sprained MCL, per the Orange County‘s Bill Oram:
“Lonzo is our starting point guard. That hasn’t changed.” – Magic
“Those guys can play together.” Pelinka on IT and Lonzo
— Bill Oram (@billoram) February 8, 2018
Playing Lonzo and IT together will certainly make for some interesting offensive combinations. Thomas is a defensive liability due to his 5’9″ frame alone, and things haven’t gotten any easier for him in light of the hip injury he suffered last year that forced him to miss most of this year. Ball has been a borderline defensive revelation and has the length to defend some 2s. That might help ensure these two can tread water together at the same time.
Yet, even if this were an issue of staggering both players, Ball’s status within the Lakers’ rotation wouldn’t be up for debate. Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka didn’t flip Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. for Channing Frye, Thomas and a first-round pick to create rotation controversy. They did so to land said pick while clearing the decks for this summer. They now have the ability to carve out two max-contract slots—which has long been their primary goal all along.
Ending up with a partial year’s worth of Thomas is just an offshoot of their cap-space pursuit. Maybe he plays himself into their bigger picture, or perhaps he fares well enough to rehabilitate his free-agency value. Whatever he does, though, he’ll do it while coming off the bench—or while at the very least ceding point guard reins to Ball.