Columnists, Sports

In the Paint: Heartbroken, a sentimental Lakers fan’s take on the Isaiah Thomas trade

What in the world?

Yep, that was my first reaction when my phone started blowing up around 12:15 p.m. Thursday afternoon. As I sat in Boston University’s West Campus dining hall, I was engulfed by text messages, notifications and phone calls from other die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fans who wanted to discuss what had just transpired.

Right when it looked like this year’s trade deadline — which officially ended Thursday at 3 p.m. EST — was going to pass over without much drama, the NBA hit us with this shocker.

Los Angeles sent youngsters Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson to the Cleveland Cavaliers, in exchange for point guard Isaiah Thomas, veteran Channing Frye and a protected 2018 first-round pick.

I have had a couple hours to digest. As a lifelong Lakers fan, here is my official synopsis of the trade: I am confused and heartbroken, but trying to stay optimistic.

First off, I love Thomas. What he did for the city of Boston last season was impeccable. Averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game, dropping 53 points against the Washington Wizards in the playoffs and playing the day after his sister passed away in a devastating car accident. He is an undisputed legend.

However, this year has been a different story. Coming off a hip injury that sidelined him for his last few days with the Boston Celtics, the guard was traded in the offseason to Cleveland. His brief time with the Cavaliers went far from expected.

Thomas played only a total of 15 games in a wine and gold uniform, and was in the center of a multitude of locker room disputes. In what made for a tough environment for any player to get going, the 5-foot-9 guard put up disappointing numbers: 14.7 points per game and 4.5 assists per game.

Still, it’s not Thomas’ ability to ball that I’m questioning. There is no doubt in my mind that he will light up the floor in the purple and gold. It’s what — or more specifically who — the Lakers had to give up that has left me devastated.

Now if you’re a Lakers-hater reading this in Boston, just realize you probably won’t get it. I don’t expect you to. But if you are a huge sports fan who loves one specific team, maybe a little more than you should, then try to put yourself in my place.

Breaking up the young core of Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball was a big mistake. These six players — with an average age of 22.5 years — brought a swagger back to Los Angeles that we haven’t seen since Kobe Bryant.

Of course, they never propelled the team to the players, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Nance was the most fun to watch and the hardest working player on the Lakers. The human highlight reel made “SportsCenter: Top 10” after “Sportscenter: Top 10” with insane slam dunks that rocked the basketball world.

But he could also contribute to a team win. So far this season, Nance has averaged 8.6 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game and 1.4 assists per game.

Clarkson — traded to Los Angeles on draft night after being selected by the Washington Wizards in 2014 — had been consistent throughout his two and a half years with the purple and gold. And like fine wine, he only got better with time.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, before dropping just seven points during the Lakers’ Tuesday clash with the Phoenix Suns, Clarkson averaged 21.2 points across an eight game span.

So, you got me. I am a overly sentimental Lakers fan who is deeply saddened to see any member of our millennial group go. However, besides my obsession with the original youngsters, I am skeptical about the dynamics of this new look team: can Ball and Thomas even fit together?

Despite what many — usually those who don’t actually watch the Lakers play — say, Ball is having a solid rookie campaign. Through 36 games this season, the former college star has put together a 10.2 points, 7.1 assists and 7.1 rebounds average. Not too shabby.

If Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka felt the need to change up the roster, was adding a another point guard to this already egotistical squad a good idea?

Head Coach Luke Walton told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he will not yet commit to starting Thomas over Ball.

But one thing is almost guaranteed, coach: somebody’s not going to happy.

Now, listen. I realize that I need to start getting pumped about the acquisition of one of the NBA’s finest. I pray to the basketball gods that it all works out the way Johnson and Pelinka envision. The 2018 first-round pick could very well pay off in dividends. And not to mention, the deal clears a ton of cap space for the Lakers to utilize in the upcoming free-agency period.

But a trade that ships two of my favorite ballers off to Cleveland?

Well, this one hurts.

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