When opportunity knocks, smart teams answer. Isaiah Thomas’ misfortune could be the Lakers’ opportunity to sign a second superstar to go with Paul George in what’s expected to be a summer of destiny for the franchise.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported this morning Isaiah Thomas was scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his hip to “clean up” inflammatory debris in the joint from his injury from last season and would miss the rest of the year. This is a crushing blow for Isaiah Thomas whose sacrifice of his body to help the Boston Celtics make a playoff run last season and subsequent injury will likely cost him millions of dollars as he enters free agency this summer.
But sometimes those unkind twists of fate have silver linings that transform them into strokes of good fortune rather than misfortune. There are strong reasons to believe Isaiah Thomas’ decision to opt for season ending surgery could actually end up being the best thing that could have happened to him. At this point in his career, what Isaiah needs is time to get healthy and a team that believes in him. Fortunately, it looks like the Lakers are that team.
According to Woj, the Lakers “continue to hold an interest in exploring a free-agent deal with guard Isaiah Thomas this summer” although that interest is obviously dependent on the Lakers not signing two superstars this summer. Magic Johnson and Luke Walton have raved about how Isaiah has been a great fit with the Lakers’ young roster and pace-and-space offense they run. And the interest seems to be mutual as Isaiah loves playing for the Lakers.
Despite initially balking at coming off the bench, Isaiah has been a perfect teammate, earning the respect of his fellow players and the Lakers’ coaches. He has not only accepted his role but has publically stated he would love to re-sign with the Lakers, the team he grew up rooting for as a boy and always wanted to play for. More importantly, Isaiah understands the Lakers are the perfect opportunity for him to prove he’s still the same player as last year.
Just how great a player was Isaiah Thomas for the Boston Celtics last year? He averaged 28.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 46.3% from the field, 37.9% from deep, and 90.9% from the line. He made All-Star and All-NBA teams and was 5th in voting for league MVP. He led the Boston Celtics to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2012, until the hip injury he tried to play through forced him out in the Finals.
Make no mistake, the Isaiah Thomas the Lakers want is not the one who played for the Lakers this season but the one who played for the Celtics last season. Provided they don’t sign LeBron and PG and the doctors clear him, the Lakers are willing to give Isaiah the time and role to make the come back. The Lakers motive is simple. Isaiah Thomas’ misfortune could be the Lakers’ opportunity to land a second superstar free agent to go with Paul George
I’m not going to get into a discussion about the nature of Isaiah’s hip injury or the differing treatment options recommended by his doctors or whether he can come all the way back to being the player he was for the Celtics last year. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume the Lakers do their due diligence and are confident Isaiah Thomas will be able to recover and be the same or close to the same player he was last year for the Boston Celtics.
I’m also going to assume the Lakers don’t sign LeBron James and Paul George as free agents this summer as that would require them to renounce Isaiah Thomas and eliminate the chance to go over the cap to re-sign him. Right now, LeBron and the Cavs look like favorites to make the Finals again from the East while the Thunder are likely to face an early playoff exit in the West, which would favor LeBron staying in Cleveland and PG going to LA.
Finally, I’m not going to get into dissecting Isaiah’s poor stats while injured. There’s no question a fully healthy Isaiah Thomas is an elite point guard in this league, even at his diminutive size. I’ll take it on faith that if he’s 100% healthy, Isaiah Thomas would be the Lakers’ leading scorer and go-to closer even if he were coming off the bench. That’s why Magic Johnson and Luke Walton are already working hard to sell Isaiah on staying with the Lakers.
We’ve passed the point where Isaiah expects to be a starter on the Lakers or receive a long term max deal this summer. What Isaiah Thomas needs right now is a place to get healthy and ultimately showcase his talents and abilities and there is not a better place to do that than with the Los Angeles Lakers. Thomas knows teams aren’t going to be lining up with multi-year offers for a diminutive 29-year old point guard coming off a bad year and serious injury.
Assuming the doctors are confident Isaiah will recover 100% and the Lakers aren’t successful signing LeBron James as their second superstar free agent to join Paul George, then they would be smart to take a leap of faith and re-sign Isaiah Thomas to a 1-year $10 million deal using his Bird rights. This would give Isaiah time to recover from surgery and get his game back while letting the Lakers confirm for themselves they’re getting the real Isaiah Thomas.
Signing Isaiah to a 1-year deal would give him the opportunity to get 100% healthy and showcase what he could offer teams and give the Lakers a chance to see how a healthy IT could impact their team. Coming off the bench but playing starter minutes and closing games, I could see Isaiah averaging 20 points and 7 assists per game while helping lead the Lakers to the playoffs. That could elevate his value from $10 million to maybe $20 million per year.
While there would be no guarantee Isaiah would chose to remain with the Lakers since he would be an unrestricted free agent the summer of 2019, the Lakers would still have his Bird rights and would thus be able to pay him whatever they needed without worrying about the cap. If Isaiah signs short term with the Lakers and has a year anywhere close to the one he had with the Celtics, the Lakers would have no problem paying him $20 million.
Ironically, you could even make a case signing Isaiah to multi-year deal from the start could be smarter. While they could use Bird rights to outbid other teams once Isaiah’s short term deal was over, the Lakers could easily end up having to pay over $20 million per year to keep Thomas if he enjoyed a great comeback season. At $10 million per year for 3 years, the downside for the Lakers would be a backup point guard and the upside a star on a great deal.
There’s no doubt the Lakers primary motive in trading for Isaiah Thomas was to clear cap space and acquire a first round draft pick but the genius in the move was the Lotto ticket they acquired by trading for Isaiah Thomas that just might get cashed next summer in the form of a second Lakers’ superstar.
That’s the reason the Lakers are taking a leap of faith on Isaiah Thomas.