• Now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, Isaiah Thomas is in another show-and-prove situation. Could he succeed in Los Angeles and become a long-term fixture?
By Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver
February 09, 2018

The Cavaliers got the ball rolling on NBA trade deadline day, ending Isaiah Thomas's short tenure in Cleveland and adding more confusion to his already-clouded future. With Thomas headed for Los Angeles and facing another show-and-prove situation, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver reflected on Thomas's time in Cleveland and discussed his potential in L.A.

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Andrew Sharp: The Isaiah side pretty staggering; I can’t imagine a way this could’ve gone worse, and it’s going to continue to be uncomfortable in Los Angeles. There are already conflicting reports about whether he’s going to start or not. Even if you spin it forward to this summer, I don’t know who is going to be looking to pay money for this version of Isaiah. I can’t see him getting more than a couple million per year, which really bums me out. But I think it’s strictly a health thing at this point. He’s not the same guy.

Ben Golliver: He could get back. You never know how long these things take. To me, I don’t want to blame Isaiah for what happened in Cleveland. I know he’s kind of a popular scapegoat at this point. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in him. There is a bargain that comes along with playing with LeBron. You have to get down on your knees every once in a while and praise the king.

But at the same time, you get the chance to compete for a title. He was theoretically playing on the best team he’d ever played for. This was going to be his opportunity to get to the Finals for the first time in his career. And when you compare that opportunity to what he was dealing with in Sacramento when he first came up or Phoenix when he was there. The situations turned pretty sour in both of those spots, especially after all the chirping and over the top star making that he was trying to go through in his injury absence and the ballyhoo that he had around his return in Cleveland.

For him to kind of go out like this and have that Cavaliers tenure be so short and so unremarkable and so full of drama and poor play on the court is disappointing. It’s just very, very disappointing. And you hate to say this, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if 5–10 years from now if he looks back on that tenure and says it was a really emotional time in his life he let get away and he probably could’ve done better. That’s what it looks like from the outside.

Sharp: I think that stylistically he and LeBron were always going to be kind of an awkward fit. Even if he were 100% healthy, it was a 50–50 bet as far as whether that was going to work for Cleveland, in particular because Cleveland needed guys who could guard around LeBron, and that’s not Isaiah. As far as where his game is now… It’s funny while you were talking I remembered something a scout told me a couple years ago, and he was actually talking about Dwyane Wade. He said the hardest guys for anybody to coach are the former superstars who lose 20% of their athleticism but don’t really realize it and think that they’re the still the same player and still try to take all the impossible shots that they used to hit. You just can’t really get through to them that they need to adapt.

I don’t blame them for feeling that way; I don’t blame Isaiah for feeling like he is a superstar, because that’s how he had played the last few years in Boston. But it’s one of those things where he’s going to have to find a way to evolve is he’s going to turn a corner. He probably won’t be in L.A. for more than a month or two, but he has to turn the corner somewhere else. This is not the way anyone wants the Isaiah Thomas story to end, but it’s bleak right now.

Golliver: What you’re describing with the scout’s words sounds a lot like post Achilles Kobe. And now look where Isaiah has landed. He’ll fit right in and make a seamless transition into that role.

I have a question for you, though. The Lakers accomplished a major goal by offloading Jordan Clarkson’s deal. Now you have the two max slots, now you’re open for business for all the A-list free agents this summer. And by the way, you add a first-round pick, which is a nice reason and another reason we should dock Koby Altman. Not a lot of first-round picks moved, and to give one up for two guys who aren’t major impact players almost to dump Isaiah—that’s a little rough to me. But, if they can’t land their top targets with those two max slots, if L.A.’s backup plan just the I.T. show and see what happens?

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Sharp: I don’t think that’s a very good backup plan, so I hope not. I think Pelinka and Magic are smarter than that, and I don’t know what they would give Isaiah Thomas in that scenario. It’s been a funny Lakers week. It started on Tuesday with Woj and Ramona reporting that the Lakers were starting to recalibrate and look toward the summer of ’19. Part of me read that and thought it was a smarter way to play this, and these guys should be careful and not go all in on LeBron and go all in on Paul George.

A couple things happened since Tuesday. No. 1: Tuesday night Paul George went out and lit up the Warriors and looked like one of the six best players in the NBA. That was an awesome performance from him. The other thing that happened was on Wednesday night LeBron went out against the Wolves and reminded everybody he’s the best player on earth. So maybe the summer of ’18 makes the most sense for the Lakers. Those guys have plenty more left, and if they’re able to hang on to Ingram and Lonzo and some of the younger pieces they have—Josh Hart has looked pretty good, Kuzma—it’s starting to look like the future is bright for L.A., too, and nobody ever has any idea what the hell the Lakers are trying to do, but they are the other big winners today.

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Golliver: A fully healthy Isaiah Thomas is still better than any player the Lakers have had in five seasons. If they could’ve got him one year ago in a trade, Lakers fans would have welcomed him with open arms. Obviously, a lot has changed over the last eight months, but the way we should view their trade deadline is that all options are on the table and they get a little test period with Isaiah. If he comes in and he doesn’t fit because this is Lonzo’s show and he doesn’t want to subjugate himself to a rookie, I would understand that from Isaiah’s standpoint—no question. That’s a little bit more defensible than not being able to fit in around LeBron James. And if he parts ways, that’s fine. But if you’re the Lakers, you’re nowhere near a title and you’re desperate for talent. If you’re able to salvage Isaiah Thomas and get him back healthy, that’s a real player potentially for your future—that’s all I’m saying. You don’t have to build the whole show around him. Still take your chances on LeBron and Paul George, but it could be a potential backup option.

Sharp: I don’t want to be mean to you or Isaiah Thomas, but I think that’s a crazy take. I don’t think that Isaiah is in the long-term picture in any scenario for them.

Golliver: Well, where do you see him landing?

Sharp: That’s kind of the awkward question that’s hanging there. I don’t know, really. I don’t think he’s going back to Phoenix. The Isaiah question is tough.