Although Lonzo Ball remains sidelined by a sprained MCL in his left knee, the Los Angeles Lakers completing a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers that included Isaiah Thomas came across as somewhat curious.
Thomas is on an expiring contract and still working into form since undergoing hip surgery. But he’s also a two-time All-Star who has grown accustomed to not only starting but leading a team. Moreover, there are financial implications if Thomas does not see significant playing time.
On the surface, that doesn’t mesh well with the Lakers roster, particularly within the starting unit. There was early speculation Thomas would perhaps be bought out of his contract, but that was quelled.
“Isaiah is playing here. We can’t wait to get him here, he’s so excited,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said.
President of basketball operations Magic Johnson echoed that, adding Thomas touched on his father being an Inglewood native and lifelong Lakers fan during their conversation over the phone.
The Lakers also aren’t buying into the notion Ball and Thomas cannot share the court together. “Lonzo is 6’7, long arms and is one of the elite point-guard defenders in the league, so he can guard ones, twos, threes,” Pelinka explained.
“I think there’s going to be points in the game where they have heavy minutes playing together. Isaiah is probably more of a natural scorer. His bread and butter is to score. Those guys can play together. Anyone that’s painting it as an either-or, doesn’t really understand the game.”
While there are visions of playing the two point guards together, Johnson didn’t leave any doubt over where the franchise’s priority lies. “Lonzo is our starting point guard. It hasn’t changed,” he said.
“He’s a young man that gives us so many different options with what he can do. We also value what IT can bring to this team. I think he can give us some of the scoring punch that left with Jordan (Clarkson).”
Although he may not start, it’s not to suggest Thomas will struggle to see the floor. “It’s not about starting. It’s about how many minutes you get,” Johnson said. “He’s going to get a lot of minutes, because that’s what we brought him here for.”
The Lakers also view Thomas as a capable of running the ship while Ball remains sidelined, and as mentor of sorts for their rookie point guard. “Right now, Zo is hurt, so we need a point guard,” Johnson said.
“Especially with that type of experience, and the fact that he can score the basketball and pass it. We need somebody to come in there and lead our troops. Brandon (Ingram) has been doing a fabulous job, but we’ve got to get another guy in here. Also, a veteran that can help Lonzo.”
Confident as the Lakers are that there isn’t a dilemma, Thomas may not be thrilled by a role off the bench, and demoting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope presents its own challenge. After all, he shares an agent with LeBron James, whom the Lakers expect to pursue in free agency.