As Isaiah Thomas answered fan questions on Twitter on Sunday, many of the messages led to reciprocal positivity.
Lakers fans were telling him they wanted him to stay a Laker next year, and he was telling them he would love that. It’s not quite that simple, of course, and there are many moving parts. And while Thomas sees himself as a starter, he told The Times he wouldn’t rule out returning to the Lakers in a role similar to what he has now, coming off the bench for significant minutes.
“I like it here, I like the situation I’m in, the system, coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Organization’s been great to me. If things work out I would love to be here. You just never know. With free agency you’ve got to keep your options open. I have no complaints since I’ve stepped foot and put a Laker uniform on.”
Thomas has played 16 games for the Lakers, one more than he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers until being traded Feb. 8. He’s come off the bench in all but one Lakers game. He started against the Golden State Warriors as the Lakers played without Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart or Kyle Kuzma.
In that time, Thomas has averaged 15.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Although he isn’t shooting as well as he did in Boston as he continues to recover from a torn labrum in his hip, Thomas’ 37.7% shooting is still better than he did in Cleveland.
He is one of a few bench players to get consistent minutes for the Lakers these days, and has developed strong chemistry with both Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball. In fact, Lakers lineups that include Randle and Thomas together have been more productive on offense and defense than those that don’t include that pair.
Thomas is in a very different place than many of his young teammates.
“I want to be great,” Thomas said. “I want to win MVP, I want to continue to be an All-Star. Their goals probably aren’t that yet. Coming straight into the league especially at 19, 20 years old. They’re in it for the experience just to figure things out on their own. And then on top of getting to the playoffs and winning championships, I want all that and it might not be their mindset yet. But at the same time being on this team I’m trying to put that in their heads that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Why not think big?”
The Lakers have liked Thomas’ influence on their young team. Coach Luke Walton has appreciated having a veteran voice on the court this season. He’s appreciated Thomas’ attitude in practices, knowing this isn’t the perfect situation for him.
This summer the Lakers will take big swings in free agency in hopes of luring players who will garner maximum contracts and start for them. If they can’t add those players this summer, they plan to save salary-cap space to have the ability to do that next summer. That means it’s possible they’d only be willing to offer Thomas a one-year deal, like they offered players last summer.
So much of the situation remains uncertain, though. What players will even be available is still an element that is unclear.
Thomas knows that. And he knows what will be important to him this summer.