Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma were playing their regularly scheduled shooting game against assistant coaches Brian Shaw and Miles Simon on the court at the American Airlines Center, shouting and laughing as they always do.
Amid it all stood Isaiah Thomas, calmly shooting three-pointers from different areas, smiling sometimes at his new teammates. It was his first time on the court with them.
“I was shocked,” Thomas said of being traded from Cleveland. “I only played 15 games for the Cavs. It was a surprise, but at the same time I am happy to have a new start, I am happy to be here with the Lakers, happy to be with a young team that is exciting, that likes to get up and down — that’s my style of play.”
Despite acquiring a player that coach Luke Walton called “one of the best point guards in our league,” the Lakers stuck with the starting lineup they’d been using during a four-game winning streak, which features Brandon Ingram at point guard. He averaged 18 points over the previous five games.
Walton told Thomas of the Lakers’ plans Friday night during dinner. Walton didn’t rule out the possibility that Thomas would start at some point, but neither would he commit to it.
“He wants to start; of course he does,” Walton said. “Everybody wants to start. But he was great. He was absolutely great when we were at dinner last night. I expect him to really help our team out, and I expect him to be a positive influence on our team and help us win ballgames.”
In the hours after the trade, Thomas’ agent was vocal about wanting Thomas to start. Thomas took a softer stance Saturday.
“My mentality is to just help this team,” Thomas said. “Whatever role I am in. Like I said, yes, I would love to be a starter, but I am on a new team that is playing very well right now and I don’t want to mess any of that up.”
Thomas was part of a four-player trade that netted a first-round draft pick for the Lakers. It was the second time in six months he’d been traded, the previous time being dealt from a Boston team he led to the best record in the East last season to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving. Thomas took a long time to return from a hip injury that derailed his postseason, and his shooting percentages suffered when he finally debuted with the Cavaliers on Jan. 2.
On Saturday, Thomas said his body “feels good.”
“There’s nothing wrong with him — you’re gonna see,” said forward Channing Frye, who came over from Cleveland, too. “He’s gonna ball. … I think this is a better system for him. But he’s going to be fine. He’s a great player.”
The Lakers have three days between games, which might provide an opportunity for Ball to return. He has missed 13 games with a sprained knee ligament.
Ball participated in shootaround Saturday, though he sat out the five-on-zero part. Shootaround does not include any contact, and Walton wants to see Ball take some contact before he practices fully. He must practice fully before he plays in a game.
“So then the next stage after that would be doing some stuff with contact,” Walton said. “Let Miles lean on him a little bit. See what it feels like when there’s people pushing on him and fighting over screens and stuff.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli