After news broke that Isaiah Thomas will undergo a season-ending procedure on his right hip on Thuesday, Thomas’ list of suitors likely got a whole lot smaller. However, Thomas can rest a little easier knowing he will have at least one team’s attention in free agency: the Los Angeles Lakers.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers “hold an interest in exploring a free-agent deal” if Thomas’ rehabilitation process goes to plan and/or if the front office can’t make good on their promise(s) in free agency.
Beyond the recovery process on his hip, Thomas’ future with the Lakers would depend largely on the franchise’s success in recruiting Cleveland’s LeBron James and Oklahoma City’s Paul George into the organization’s salary-cap space.
If the Lakers are unsuccessful in those recruitments, it would significantly increase the front office’s interest in exploring one-year deals for the 2018-19 season to preserve future salary-cap space, league sources told ESPN.
Even before it was announced he was going to need surgery, Thomas wasn’t expected to get any big money offers this summer and if he did, it was going to be for one year. Not that he can’t still get a lucrative one-year offer in free agency, but all signs point to that being less likely now.
But if the Lakers strike out completely in free agency, they could make Thomas a one-year offer he could not refuse in hopes of preserving cap space for next summer, when players like Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard will be free agents.
There’s also a possibility the Lakers bring him back even if they snag a couple of big fish in free agency. In his brief time with the organization, Thomas has made a lasting impression on the coaching staff and his teammates, per Wojnarowski.
“The team’s agenda always came first and he never complained about it once,” Walton said Wednesday. “... Him and Julius [Randle] had a nice connection going. I loved the banter between him and [Kyle Kuzma] out there on the floor. He was great. You go down the line, he affected all the guys that played minutes for us, the young guys.”
Walton said Thomas wanted to be a starter but “never complained” about coming off the bench, putting the team’s goals ahead of his own personal goals.
“He has been a really good leader for us,” Ingram added. “He has kind of been our vocal guy going into every single game, every single day, giving us pieces of advice how to be better.”
Thomas has also enjoyed his time in Los Angeles, despite not starting. Thomas told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times he is open to reunion in the summer if “everything works out.”
“I like it here, I like the situation I’m in, the system, coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Organization’s been great to me. If things work out I would love to be here. You just never know. With free agency you’ve got to keep your options open. I have no complaints since I’ve stepped foot and put a Laker uniform on.”
Thomas will be a unrestricted free agent on July 1. The Lakers have reportedly let Thomas know he is welcome to use the training facility as he rehabilitates, even after free agency starts.
While Thomas has been underwhelming in his brief stint with the purple and gold, having him back on a short-term deal wouldn’t be terrible, especially if his signing is accompanied by the signings of Paul George and Julius Randle.
Julius Randle, Paul George and Isaiah Thomas? That sounds like a pretty good summer to me.