Isaiah Thomas is happy to be a member of the Los Angeles Lakers…for now.
After this season, though, all bets are off.
In the most fundamental sense, both Thomas and the Lakers may be traveling two different paths. They’re trying to max out two superstars, including LeBron James, Thomas’ former teammate. The 5’9″ point guard, meanwhile, is looking to put the finishing touches on a redemption campaign. And he doesn’t envision himself doing that while coming off the bench, like he is now in Los Angeles.
As he told USA Today‘s Sam Amick:
“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.”
Thomas, who is fewer than 30 games into a return from a hip injury that sidelined him for last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, made it clear he’s not trying to stir up trouble for the Lakers. He understands what’s happening, and where they’re at. But it doesn’t sound like he’s planning to return either.
Los Angeles already has Lonzo Ball starting at the point. Both he and Thomas can player together—the Lakers are outscoring opponents by more than eight points per 100 possessions when they do, according to NBA.com—but the front office’s infatuation with poaching superstars and the presence of the injured Josh Hart makes it difficult to sell that as a long-term option. Even if the Lakers strikeout in free agency, a 29-year-old Thomas runs counter to their rebuilding timeline if he’s not willing to sign a shorter deal.
And yet, the two-time All-Star may ultimately have to re-adjust his expectations. There’s no clear-cut suitor who figures to offer him a starting job this summer. Would the Indiana Pacers sign him to play beside Victor Oladipo if Cory Joseph opts out and they want to move Darren Collison to the bench or waive him altogether? Would the Los Angeles Clippers view him as an upgrade over Milos Teodosic and a healthy Patrick Beverley? Might the New Orleans Pelicans prefer him to Rajon Rondo if they’re bent on keeping Jrue Holiday at the 2?
Options exist, but they’re in short supply. And almost none of them include a lucrative contract. Thomas, it seems, will have to make concessions of some kind no matter where he ends up. So neither he nor the Lakers should rule out a return just yet.