Los Angeles Lakers guard Isaiah Thomas is tired of moving around. After the Boston Celtics sent him to the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason, IT settled down in his new home in Ohio, only to find himself traded yet again, this time to the Lakers. In the course of less than one calendar year, Thomas has made his way from the East coast all the way out to Cali.
He’s tired of moving. But he also knows what he’s worth as a player. Thomas is a starter. He understands that the Lakers acquired him in a bit of a weird situation, but he is ready to start again.
“I’m not no sixth man,” said Thomas when asked by USA TODAY Sports. “And I won’t be a sixth man. I just want everybody to know that, like clear as can be. I’m a two-time All-Star and a starter who has done things that a lot of people in this league haven’t done given that opportunity. But I got traded into a situation I can’t control. There’s nothing bad against [Lakers coach] Luke Walton. There’s nothing bad against the Los Angeles Lakers.”
Thomas started his first game for the Lakers this season, dropping 20 in the team’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. Overall, it was a great first start for IT in purple and gold, although his season average as a sixth man is actually higher than his season average as a starter (16.5 points per game vs 14.1 as a starter).
“I’m taking advantage of the opportunity they’ve given me, and then end the season off strong,” continued IT. “And that’s all I can do. I’m not coming in here saying, ‘Oh, I want this, or this is going to happen.’ No, that’s not me. I’m just going to come in here and be a professional, and when my name is called I’m going to be more than ready for any opportunity I’m given.”
Of course, if the Lakers try to move IT back to the bench moving forward, he might consider leaving this offseason. Yeah, I know he’s the one that keeps saying he hopes the Lakers want him back (in other words, he hopes the Lakers are willing to open up their purse for him), but if they aren’t willing to start him, he’ll find somewhere else that will. He knows it, and the Lakers know it.
“Could he start? One hundred percent,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton. “Does he deserve to start? Yeah, with what he’s done in his career. Absolutely. We’re in a unique situation here. We have a young team. Guys are playing well, and with the trade, JC [Jordan Clarkson] and Larry [Nance Jr.] were kind of the soul of that second unit, so we needed a leader in that group, and I kind of just challenged [IT], that even though he fully wants to start, I said, ‘Look, you’ve been out a long time, to me there’s only, however much, two months left in the season at the time—find the joy. Go find it.”
For now, Isaiah needs to find his place with the Lakers, be it starter or sixth man. And, most importantly, he needs to decide if he’s happy in that role because if he resigns with the Lakers, he’ll most likely be stuck in that role for the next three or so years.
For now, IT needs to make the most of what he has. Although he came off the bench in his first 13 games, he will certainly have more opportunities like the Warriors game to start before the end of the season. The coaching decisions on whether or not he starts are very much out of his control, but how he performs and his overall attitude around the team is 100 percent up to him.
“What you love doing is playing basketball, and whether or not I’m starting you or not, that decision is out of your hands,” continued Walton. “So just go out and have fun. We have a great group of young players. We want to play fast, lead them, and to his credit, yeah he aired everything that he wanted to me, and I said, ‘I appreciate it. For now, at least, we’re still going to continue to start the group we are.”
While Thomas has accepted his role as the sixth man for the Lakers for the time being, whatever team he is playing for next year won’t have him in a similar position. The two requirements that any team looking to sign Thomas this offseason will have are deep pockets (and a willingness to pay for an “older” guard coming off injury) and a starting slot available.
The Lakers still may be a contender for both.