When the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, many lauded the team for creating ample cap space and flexibility that would allow them to chase two max-contract free agents.
Internally, the Lakers championed their acquisition of Frye and Thomas, who were among the veterans jettisoned by the Cavaliers at the trade deadline. There was skepticism over that enthusiasm, particularly with Thomas.
At the time of the deal he’d played in just 15 games. Thomas missed a chunk of the season because of an arduous recovery from a hip injury. The former MVP candidate was largely a shell of himself.
But Thomas has been much improved since joining the Lakers. Presumably due to a combination of a change of scenery and expanded opportunities.
“If I play in the fourth quarter, I do the things I used to do,” Thomas said after scoring 23 points against the Denver Nuggets. “[Head coach Luke Walton] is giving me the opportunities to play and make plays. The easy part is going out there and doing it.”
Thomas made his first start for the Lakers on Wednesday night, a game in which the team was without Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Thomas had 20 points and seven assists while playing 37 minutes in the second of a back-to-back.
He’s scored at least 20 points and logged a minimum of 31 minutes in three consecutive games. Throughout some of his struggles, Thomas mentioned the need to find his rhythm again. It certainly is an understandable reality considering the months he was sidelined.
While Thomas concedes he’s not yet 100 percent healthy, progress is being made. “Each and every game, each and every day, I’m feeling better,” he said. “It’s going in the right direction. It’s positive steps. I’m feeling more and more like myself.”
What Thomas never lost is his fiery personality and competitiveness on the court. He sparred with Kuzma last week, and needed to be separated from Julius Randle after the two argued during a timeout.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton has praised Thomas for his leadership, and all parties involved dismissed animated conversations as being a serious matter.