In their first conversation with Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka heard excitement on the other end of the phone.
“We can’t wait to get him here,” said Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager. “He’s so excited. Magic, you can tell them. You talked to him.”
Said Johnson, president of basketball operations: “We talked to him, he’s so excited. Said his father was born and raised in Inglewood, so he’s really excited.”
Four minutes and 20 seconds into their news conference discussing Thursday’s trade, Johnson and Pelinka mentioned Thomas for the first time. The point guard was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ main acquisition in the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics last August, but his time in Cleveland was rocky, especially as he worked to return from hip injuries.
Now he’s getting a fresh start, albeit with a team much further back in its development.
“He is happy for the opportunity to come and play for the Lakers,” Aaron Goodwin, Thomas’ agent, said in a text message. “He was excited after his conversation with Earv and Rob on how they view him and that they wanted him.”
Thomas didn’t ask for the trade. In fact, on Wednesday he told reporters in Cleveland that he didn’t want to be traded.
But the Cavaliers traded nearly half their roster Thursday, blowing up a locker room that had become tense in recent weeks. Thomas and Channing Frye were sent to Los Angeles along with a first-round pick for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
And while there was immediate speculation that Thomas would want a buyout, the Lakers never considered it.
“Right now Zo’s hurt,” Johnson said of Lonzo Ball. “We need a point guard. So especially with that type of experience and the fact that he can score the basketball and pass it, we want to get him in here fast. We told him that. He’s day to day, Zo is. We don’t know when he’s coming back. We need somebody to come in there and lead our troops.”
Johnson also stressed the importance of having a veteran player who could mentor Ball. Thomas is 29 years old and in his seventh NBA season.
Ball is still the Lakers’ starting point guard. As for how Ball and Thomas will coexist, Pelinka is not worried.
“They can play together,” Pelinka said. “Lonzo’s 6-7, long arms. One of the elite point guard defenders in the league. He can guard 1s, 2s, 3s. I think there’s gonna be points in the game where they have heavy minutes together. ...
“Isaiah’s probably more of a natural scorer. What, he was second in the league in scoring last year? That’s his bread and butter to score.
“Those guys can play together. Anyone that’s painting it as an either-or doesn’t really understand the game.”