The Steve Nash experiment didn't work out quite as planned. In two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, the iconic point guard has played in just 65 games because of injuries.
The organization's search for the point guard of the future is overdue at this point, but now it finally has the financial flexibility to earnestly engage in such a pursuit.
Ordinarily, landing a restricted free agent isn't easy. The incumbent team has the right to match any offer received on the open market, so suitors often shy away from the process. But Thomas is a different story altogether, especially after the Kings agreed to terms with former Clippers point guard Darren Collison.
Collison's presence in Sacramento could be a harbinger of things to come for Thomas. USA Today's Sam Amick reports that, "A person with knowledge of Collison's situation not only confirmed the agreement but said the 26-year-old who was Chris Paul's backup with the Los Angeles Clippers last season is heading for Sacramento with the understanding that he will be the starter."
That likely means the Kings will balk at matching a large contract for Thomas. They wouldn't make that kind of investment in someone they view as a sixth man, not with other teams pursuing Thomas as a key long-term piece.
Should Sacramento hold on to its money and let Thomas walk, the Lakers could be the benefactors.
They're certainly high on Thomas' list.
And they have been for a long time. According to Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy:
It’s well-documented that Thomas grew up a diehard fan of the Lakers since his father is from Los Angeles, and he has idolized Bryant since he was a child. When asked what it would mean to sign an offer sheet with the Lakers, Thomas admits that it would be special.
"It would mean a lot," Thomas said, per Kennedy. "Not even just the Lakers, but just to have other teams trying to get you, it means you’re wanted."
The Lakers could certainly make Thomas feel wanted—namely because they have good reason to want him.
Even if Nash goes out with a bang and plays an integral role this season, the franchise has to start thinking ahead. Thomas would be an important start.
The 25-year-old had a breakout 2013-14 campaign, posting 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. He was efficient, too, especially for a guy who took 5.1 three-pointers per contest. Thomas finished the season with a 20.54 player efficiency rating, a mark that ranked fourth among point guards. His .574 true-shooting percentage placed him ninth among point guards.
Put simply, Thomas is an electric scorer coming off his best season. He added an estimated 11.9 wins for the Kings last season, speaking to the pivotal role he played for a young, rebuilding team.
Could he play a similar role for the Lakers?
Los Angeles could use a point guard who can shoot the ball, creating space for Kobe Bryant to operate from the mid-range and the post. Though the young floor general still has plenty to learn about running an offense, he'd be able to ease his way into the responsibility—initially allowing Bryant and Nash to initiate much of the offense.
Thomas would also benefit from having Nash around as a mentor. Few—if any—current players are better suited to training an up-and-coming point guard on the spot. Nash can do it with his eyes closed.
That kind of relationship would bode well for the franchise's future.
Though Thomas is small (5'9") and somewhat of a liability defensively, his knack for offense has to make him an attractive option.
And at the moment, the organization is relatively short on options.
As in-house solutions go, Los Angeles is limited to the affordable but inexperienced Kendall Marshall. The 22-year-old earned heavy minutes last season in Nash's absence, averaging a fairly impressive 8.0 points and 8.8 assists. The pass-first point guard showed flashes of promise, but isn't nearly as ready to take the helm as Thomas.
Assuming restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe is out of the organization's price range (or otherwise likely to be retained by the Phoenix Suns), there are few other free-agent possibilities seriously worth exploring.
Veteran Jameer Nelson could probably be had at a reasonable price, but at 32 he's not the kind of guy around whom the Lakers can build. The same goes for Portland's Mo Williams.
Los Angeles could probably outbid the Toronto Raptors in pursuit of restricted free agent Greivis Vasquez, but Thomas is an all-around better player.
That leaves LA with a grab bag of relatively unattractive possibilities including Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, Ramon Sessions or D.J. Augustin—none of whom has the starting pedigree Thomas possesses at the moment.
So even if Thomas doesn't seem overwhelmingly attractive at first glance, consider the alternatives.
Thomas will start to grow on you.
At least if he's available at the right price. The Lakers are set to have plenty of cap space in 2015, when guys like Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo are scheduled to become free agents. Much as this team wants to win now, it would be well-advised not to overspend and jeopardize future flexibility.
Pending that consideration, Thomas appears to be a strong fit, perhaps a valuable missing piece.
If the Lakers are looking around the market and doing their due diligence, they certainly can't overlook him.