Isaiah Thomas says he’ll play any role Lakers ask of him, including coming off bench

Dinner was the first thing on Luke Walton’s agenda Friday night. So, the Lakers’ coach invited Isaiah Thomas to break bread with him in order to get to know the All-Star point guard better. Walton talked and Thomas listened and Thomas talked and Walton listened.

What was said?

“Well, that’s between us,” Walton said Saturday after the Lakers’ shootaround.

It wasn’t difficult to guess, though.

Yes, Thomas would prefer to be a starter, as he’s been for most of his NBA career.

Yes, Thomas wants to help the Lakers in any way possible, including mentoring Lonzo Ball.

Yes, the hip issue that limited Thomas to only 15 games this season before the Cleveland Cavaliers dealt him, Channing Frye and a first-round draft pick to the Lakers at the NBA trade deadline Thursday has healed and his game is starting to get back to what it was before the injury.

No, Thomas didn’t want to talk about why things went haywire in Cleveland.

“I’m just ready to play and have fun again,” Thomas told reporters.

For the moment, it means playing a reserve role. Walton has used 19 different starting lineups in 55 games this season, including Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks. It probably won’t be long before No. 20 includes Thomas, but Walton made no guarantees.

“He wants to start, of course he does,” Walton said. “Everybody wants to start. But he was great when we were at dinner (Friday) 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.”

Walton didn’t wish to mess with success, so against the Mavericks he opted to stick with a starting lineup that had helped the Lakers win four consecutive games: Josh Hart and Julius Randle at the forward positions, Brook Lopez at center and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram at the guard spots.

Ball sat out for the 13th game because of a sprained left knee.

Thomas, 29, came off the bench for the second time this season. He said he was fine with it.

“My mentality is just to help this team in whatever role I’m in,” he said. “I would love to be a starter, but I’m on a new team that’s playing very well right now and I don’t want to mess any of that up. I’ll fit in where I fit in. When my name’s called I’m going to take advantage of my opportunity.

“All I’m worried about is getting wins for this organization and getting it back to what it was.”

Above all, Thomas said he looked forward to a fresh start. He said he was eager to help Ball if that’s what was asked of him. He also said it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine him and Ball starting together at some point when Ball is fit to play again.

“That’s fine,” the 29-year-old Thomas said when asked about mentoring Ball, 20. “I’ve been in the league six more years than he has. I’m going to help him out. He’s a special young player and he’s going to be an incredible talent in this league for years to come.

“My job is to help where I can. I’m still in my prime. It’s not like I’m taking a backseat to anybody. I’m here to be who I am and to make a difference on this team, and I’m excited about the opportunity. … He’s the type of guy that can make plays and I can play plays, as well.”


Walton said is was possible Ball could join the Lakers on Monday for his first full-contact practice since he was injured in a Jan. 13 overtime victory over the Mavericks. Ball participated in the Lakers’ shootaround Saturday, but it was a non-contact workout.

“Whatever day it is, he’s going to have to come in and do all his pre-treatment and do all his pre-activation, get on the court and do all his work, and if after all that he’s feeling great, then we’ll get him onto the practice court,” Walton said. “So, there’s no way to know until that day comes.”

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