Can Isaiah Thomas help the Lakers?
How mercurial point guard Isaiah Thomas could turn out to be more than just an expiring contract for the Lakers
Let me start by admitting I’ve never been an Isaiah Thomas fan. In fact, you could even argue I’ve been a crude critic and doubter of his game and value. So imagine my surprise when I found out the Lakers had just traded for IT.
While freeing up cap space and acquiring a first round pick were the main reasons the Lakers traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr. to the Cavs, Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye are more than just the expiring contracts thrown in to make the trade work. While the Lakers would likely have agreed to the deal regardless of whom they were getting in return, Thomas and Frye actually represent major upgrades over the Clarkson and Nance, Jr.
While both are on expiring contracts and not expected to be part of the Lakers’ long term plan, Thomas and Frye could still have major short term impact. To start with, both players are elite 3-point shooters, which is exactly what the Lakers need to upgrade their league worst 33% 3-point shooting. Thomas is a 36% career 3-shooter while Frye is a 39% career 3-point shooter, compared to Clarkson and Nance, career 33% and 25% 3-point shooters.
Improving their poor long range shooting is one of the Lakers’ key needs. Right now, their offensive efficiency of 102.3 ranks 27th in the league, ahead of only the Suns, Bulls, and Kings. With better spacing from better 3-point shooting, the Lakers’ offense should improve the second half of the season. The addition of Thomas and Frye could be the boost the Lakers’ offense needs to finish the year strong and even make a belated push to make the playoffs.
The most intriguing aspect of the trade to me is the huge upside Isaiah Thomas offers the Lakers as an elite scorer and distributor who’d play big minutes and close games as a backup and back court mate for Lonzo Ball. Remember this is the guy who got the 5th most votes for MVP last year and averaged 28.9 points, 5.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game. it would behoove the Lakers to take a good long look at how IT could fit.
I remember lobbying strongly for the Lakers to consider trading Brandon Ingram for Kyrie Irving when the Cavs first starting looking to trade him. I argued a big time scorer like Irving would have been a great fit on the Lakers. A guy to take over in the fourth quarter of the game, like IT did for the Celtics many times last season and playoffs. A superstar hungry team like the Lakers would be foolish not to take a long hard look at how IT could fit long term.
Guys who can average almost 30 points per game and produce in the clutch under pressure are exactly what the Lakers want in the superstars they sign. Like Kyrie, I always though Isaiah had a lot of Kobe in him, that killer drive to dominate your defender, that total lack of fear in attacking the defense. IT was a special player and he finds himself in a humbling and difficult position. Chances of Brinks trucks lining up for him this summer just aren’t in the cards
I think there’s a good chance Isaiah’s best option this summer might be to sign a short term deal to stay with the Lakers and rebuild his game and market value. This is an entirely different situation coming off a major injury after being traded from three different teams for various issues. It’s not like IT has been lighting it up. He’s going to first have to prove he can come back as the same player and then that he can fit into the Lakers culture and chemistry.
But if he can, the payoff could be great for IT and the Lakers. I think Lonzo Ball and Isaiah Thomas could conceivably form a dynamic point guard duo not unlike that created by Chris Paul and James Harden. Luke should look hard at how Mike D’Antoni has utilized CP3 and Harden. Sometimes they play together but Mike always makes sure that one of them is on the floor at all times, which means having an elite point guard 48 minutes every game.
Chances are Isaiah Thomas will end up just being a half-season rental for the Lakers as they pass on him in their pursuit to land two superstar free agents like LeBron James and Paul George. But there’s also a chance the Lakers may find Isaiah Thomas is the perfect catalyst to add to their talent young core to turbo charge the team. He’s still only 29 years old and circumstances may result in the Lakers being able to re-sign him at a greatly reduced price.
IT as a member of the Lakers long term may be a long shot but it’s also a very tantalizing one, considering Isaiah grew up as a Lakers fan. I fully expect Isaiah to do everything he can to become one of the Lakers’ two superstars.