Lakers: Why a sign-and-trade of Isaiah Thomas may be the best route

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 26: Isaiah Thomas (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 26: Isaiah Thomas (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Lakers have an interesting decision on their hands with the expiring contract of Isaiah Thomas. Perhaps the best route to take is an unconventional one.

Isaiah Thomas and the Los Angeles Lakers have an interesting decision to make in the 2018 offseason. The former MVP candidate is set to hit the open market, likely with a large payday in his crosshairs. However, with the potential of bringing in other stars, giving Thomas that big payday may not be in the Lakers’ best wishes.

The issue arises though that Thomas has become a target to get re-signed by Los Angeles. Thomas has reportedly had a very positive impact on the Lakers’ young talent, making his value extend much further than on the court production. Plus, with Thomas finally getting his hip cleaned up, he could return to the same explosive Thomas that we saw in the 2016-17 season.

None of that is guaranteed. And the Lakers must ponder the question; is Thomas worth potentially overpaying? While he may have a positive impact on the younger guys, he does not have the best track record with other stars?

A re-invented Isaiah Thomas would definitely make the Lakers a playoff team. However, it still would not elevate them to that next level. They would just be a fourth-seed that cannot match up with the star power of the Warriors and Rockets.

However, another storyline could emerge. The Lakers could strike out on 2018, turning the focus then to 2019. At that point, the Lakers could develop a strategy similar to last season; sign overpriced one-year deals. This will help the team win while keeping them flexible.

It will also give Thomas the payday that he wants. With $61 million in practical cap space — which will be less after the team (hopefully) re-signs Julius Randle — the front office can easily give Thomas a one-year, $18 million deal.

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Another avenue should be considered. To get Thomas the payday that he wants, and to give the Lakers some flexibility, perhaps a sign-and-trade deal could be in the cards.

Thomas does not owe the Lakers anything, so him agreeing to a sign-and-trade deal would solely be his decision. However, it is the best way for Thomas to get the payday he desires while helping the Lakers accomplish a multitude of things.

Los Angeles could take several routes in this deal. They could sign Thomas to a longer deal and trade him to a team like the Pacers, who could use another star, in return for a contract like Al Jefferson’s.

Jefferson’s contract expires after next season and gives the Lakers added depth in the frontcourt with Brook Lopez hitting the market.

Or the Lakers could try to use Thomas as bait to get rid of Luol Deng’s contract. This would be much more challenging, but a contending team may be willing to part ways with larger, expiring deals to get Thomas in the fold to contend for a title.

A possibility (and it is just a possibility) would be for the Lakers to sign Thomas to a deal worth $15 million annually. Then, the Lakers could package Thomas, Luol Deng and a future lottery protected draft pick for Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson.

Gibson’s contract would be expiring after next season and Teague’s after the 2019 season. This still the leaves the Lakers with the flexibility to get a star this offseason while adding a similar veteran presence behind Lonzo Ball. Teague and Minnesota have not had the best relationship.

And if the team strikeouts this offseason, they are only opening up the $14 million owed to Taj Gibson. Yes, they would have to deal with Teague’s contract still, but it is essentially the same as Deng’s with far more contribution.

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Regardless, the front office could get creative with a sign-and-trade deal. There is likely some teams out there that are interested in Thomas but cannot pay him the money he wants as a free agent. Instead, they can open up that cap space by sending one of their contracts (and some incentives) to the Lakers.