After being shipped out from Boston last summer and coming off a major hip injury heading into a contract year, Isaiah Thomas found himself in a tumultuous Cleveland Cavaliers locker room approaching the trade deadline. The team was struggling in the 15 games that Thomas played in after returning from his injury which ultimately led the Cavaliers to effectively rid themselves of half their roster, including Thomas.
The Lakers were a team looking to clear cap space for this summer and possibly acquire a pick in the process. The two sides came to terms on a deal that landed Thomas on his third team in less than six months.
With the expectations for the Lakers and Cavaliers being so vastly divergent, Thomas had to adapt to a new role and separate forms of pressure.
There were rufflings during the season that the former all-star was one of the irritants in the Cleveland locker room so Thomas had to prove to the rest of the league that he wasn’t at fault and that he could be a strong veteran presence for the youth on the Lakers.
However, Thomas had many fans wondering how he’d accept a role he wasn’t accustomed to when his agent exclaimed that he would not be coming off the bench. This desire did not last long, though, as his agent immediately softened his stance after speaking with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson who assured Thomas’ agent that he’d get big minutes.
As far as on the court production goes, with the team all but out of playoff contention, the bar was exponentially lower in Los Angeles. In his 17 games with the club, the Lakers were 8-9 while Thomas was relatively inconsistent on a night to night basis. There were moments where you could see glimpses of the MVP candidate he was just a year ago and other moments where you could tell that he was never fully recovered from his hip injury.
Thomas was the same liability defensively that he has been his entire career due to being just 5-foot-9 and while that hurt the strong defense the Lakers played this season, it wasn’t as big of a setback as initially imagined.
On the offensive side of the ball, even though he was never fully healthy in his 17 games, Thomas offered something the young core of the purple and gold had yet to play with; a volume off-ball scorer. As mentioned earlier, he was never consistent with his efficiency during the season but there were games where him hitting shots off down screens and pick-and-roll actions that could be something we see the Lakers do often if they were to land someone like Paul George.
While his time with the team was limited, Thomas was able to quickly build a rapport on pick-and-roll actions with the bigs on the team, specifically Ivica Zubac and Julius Randle. This was key for the team because Thomas’ ability to create off the dribble for both himself and his teammates was one of the reasons the team was able to withstand injuries to both Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram during that 17-game stretch.
When the Lakers acquired Thomas the expectations were extremely low for most fans as he was still laboring from his injury, which would ultimately shut him down in mid-March, and his stint in Cleveland didn’t offer much promise of him returning to his full potential this season. The biggest concern with the 29-year old was how he would impact the close-knit locker room the Lakers had established and by all accounts, he was actually a positive addition.
After the Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention, Thomas opted to undergo arthroscopic hip surgery which cut his season, and possibly, depending on this upcoming summer, his time with the Lakers short. However, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the door might be open for Thomas to return to the team for the 2019 season depending on how well the franchise does in free agency, and it seems like he’d be receptive to a deal.
If the Lakers strike out on the big names like Paul George and Lebron James, or even if they only land one of them, there could be a spot for Thomas on the squad but it would likely involve him accepting a role off the bench.
All in all, though his time with the team was almost as short as his stature, Isaiah Thomas built strong relationships with many players on the team, had outbursts that gave fans a look at why he was just removed from an MVP candidate season, and memories like the “meaningless” win against Denver that should not be forgotten. The question of whether or not he will be back with the team next year will likely not be resolved for a while, but watching Isaiah in purple and gold was a roller coaster that embodied the 2017-2018 season to a tee.