The Los Angeles Lakers made the shocking trade that triggered one of the most bizarre trade deadlines in NBA history. The Lakers acquired Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Isaiah Thomas, power forward Channing Frye, and the Cavs 2018 first round pick for point guard Jordan Clarkson and power forward Larry Nance Jr. It was clear the Cavaliers were spiraling out of control with a string of disappointing losses that led to general manager Koby Altman shaking up the roster to go younger and more athletic. On the other hand, the Lakers made this deal for one big reason, and the reason does not bode well for “I.T.”.
OFFICIAL: Lakers Acquire Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, in Trade With Cleveland https://t.co/8rTiGu0VXm
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 8, 2018
By shedding the contracts of Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., and acquiring one-year contracts with Thomas and Frye, the Lakers will look to go all out and attempt to acquire two max contract free agents, which will be centered around LeBron James and Paul George. The Lakers will have the money to afford them both, and the trade was a strategic risk to take. Even if James and George do not choose to sign with the Lakers, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Aaron Gordon, Clint Capela, and Avery Bradley will all be available to pursuit. DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Durant would also become available if choosing to opt-out of their current contracts.
If the Lakers completely strike out in the 2018 offseason, 2019 looks to feature a very prominent free agent class. 2019 will feature LeBron James, Paul George, DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Durant (if they all choose to opt-in this summer, they will become full-fledged free agents in 2019), Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell, Tobias Harris, and Kemba Walker. The Lakers will have a plethora of options to choose from over the next two summers, which could lead the Lakers to finally reach the playoffs again, which they have not done since the days of Kobe Bryant.
"The Cavaliers have just cleared a path for the Lakers to go after Paul George and LeBron James this summer."
–Brian Windhorst pic.twitter.com/MSv6bETxVr
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 8, 2018
Another sign leading to Isaiah Thomas not returning to the Lakers is the position that he plays. It makes absolutely zero sense for the Lakers to have both Lonzo Ball and Isaiah Thomas on the same roster for the foreseeable future. Ball is a star in the making in Los Angeles, and with both Thomas and Ball on the roster, who would start and who would come off the bench? Neither player would fit as a shooting guard given Thomas’s height and Ball’s pass first, true point guard style of play. Being that Ball is the future and Thomas is the now, it makes more sense for the Lakers to stick to continuing to develop Ball and just part ways with Thomas when the season is over. Ball is the younger, less expensive option. So, that is a no-brainer for Altman to make the decision on who is the long-term point guard for the Lakers.
Isaiah Thomas does not fit in the scheme of things for the Lakers (in youth sense). The Lakers currently have a young core featured around Ball (20), Brandon Ingram (20), Kyle Kuzma (22), Josh Hart (22), and Julius Randle (23). Thomas, who is 29 years old, is about to enter the dreaded 30s and does not fit the Lakers culture of developing young talent and putting in-their-prime stars around them to become title contenders. Well, this is the point where you’re probably thinking, “Danny, LeBron James is 33, how does his age fit into the Lakers scheme of building a title contender?” The answer to that question is as simple as it gets. He is LeBron “King” James.
LeBron shows no signs of slowing down, has never been injured in his illustrious basketball career, and makes everyone around him better. James is the puzzle piece that every NBA team not named the Golden State Warriors seeks. Putting LeBron around these young, talented players will bring the best out of them. You can say what you want about LeBron not being loyal, or how he runs players and coaches out of town, but when has LeBron ever had a young, athletic team around him like he could have with the Lakers? And if the Lakers would be able to acquire Paul George? That would be an epic combination of two ultra-talented two-way players that will be the centerpiece for Los Angeles over the next three to five years.
The Lakers would be wise to let Isaiah Thomas walk this summer. He is going to command a max contract, and signing him to such a deal would force L.A. to only be able to add one more max contract this offseason. Thomas is better off being a guaranteed starter and a focal point to the offense he plays in with the next team he chooses to play for. The Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs are all teams to watch that could look to sign Thomas for 2019 and beyond. Thomas is a proven scorer and a proven floor general, as he was able to lead the Celtics to the playoffs multiple times in the duration he played in Boston. Thomas will make a great fit elsewhere, and expect his time in Los Angeles to be a walk in the park.