People forget this sometimes, but all the way back in 2018, it was actually Isaiah Thomas who cleared the way for the Lakers to sign LeBron James. Or, more accurately, it was Thomas’ contract.
At the 2018 trade deadline, general manager Rob Pelinka sent Baby Lakers Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a protected first-round pick. Sending out Clarkson for expiring contracts gave the Lakers enough cap space to land two max stars, and while only James came aboard that summer, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that the team having the financial flexibility to add a co-star — like, say, Anthony Davis? — in a trade down the line was a factor in his decision to sign with the purple and gold.
Thomas was actually really productive for the 17 games he played in purple and gold, averaging 15.6 points and 5 assists while playing mostly off of the bench — numbers only equaled by fellow super-sub Lou Williams that season — before being shut down to have hip surgery. Our own Christian Rivas called him “arguably the best available backup point guard on the market” heading into free agency that summer, and argued for the Lakers to re-sign him. They instead went with Rajon Rondo (which two years later ended up working out when Rondo activated playoff mode).
Thomas has been out of the NBA since February of 2020, when he was waived by the Clippers following a trade from the Wizards, but he’s trying to make an NBA comeback. Could a reunion with the Lakers be in the cards? Well, according to Jon Krawcynski of The Athletic... maybe?
Hearing the Lakers and the Bucks are among the teams to watch if/when IT gets another shot in the league. https://t.co/X2wueyfcyq— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 18, 2021
Now, to paraphrase the great philosopher Kanye West: “What the f--- does that mean, Jon Krawcynski?” Well, probably that Thomas’ agent is trying to get his client’s name out there more than anything, but it also does indicate that the Lakers and Bucks are at least keeping tabs on Thomas to see if he can provide anything.
As he tries to make his comeback, Thomas most recently answered the call for the 2021 USA Basketball Men’s AmeriCup Qualifying Team, where he led the team in scoring with 14 points per game and hit six of his 12 threes in two games.
Was that enough to catch the eye of the Lakers? Maybe, but it’s also hard to see how Thomas makes much sense for this team. A small, ball-dominant guard who is physically limited by injuries and size on defense does not exactly feel like a fit for this roster. As much fun as Thomas was in his prime — and even during his short stint in L.A. — who is he going to get minutes over in Los Angeles? Certainly not starting point guard Dennis Schröder, and it feels incredibly unlikely that defensive-minded head coach Frank Vogel would use him over Alex Caruso.
Now Thomas is a great locker room guy who was excellent with the young guys — especially Kyle Kuzma — while he was in L.A., so maybe he’d be willing to just jump on board as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option, mentor Talen Horton-Tucker to try to get a ring, but if he actually wants an opportunity to play real minutes again, the Lakers don’t feel like a natural match.
Still, the team does have one open roster spot, and could have two if they don’t sign Damian Jones for the rest of the season this weekend, so it makes sense that they’re at least keeping tabs. Maybe they could even bring him in on a 10-day just to see what he has while they evaluate their other buyout options after next week’s trade deadline. The nebulous wording of that report definitely doesn’t mean a signing is imminent, but it’s now at least worth keeping an eye out for as a possibility that’s on the team’s radar.
How much that actually means remains to be seen, but if anything, they should bring Thomas back just to recreate this meme, tank Nikola Jokic’s MVP case and put LeBron fully in the driver’s seat for the award.
Rob Pelinka: Light Years Ahead.