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The Lakers didn’t have the type splashy signing off-season they hoped to have in the lead up to the July 1st opening of free agency, but they recovered nicely in building a roster that addressed many of their needs. In signing a quality group of veterans — including, reportedly, international point guard Marcelo Huertas — and flanking them with a crop of young players eager to make inroads as contributing players, the Lakers have taken a step towards becoming more competitive.

Before that competition begins against other NBA teams, though, there will be a lot of competition just to sort out who the final players on the roster will be. I touched on this briefly on twitter, but as of today, if including Huertas, the Lakers have 17 players on their roster heading into camp. Of those 17, 13 have fully guaranteed contracts (this would include Huertas). Of the four remaining players, two have partial guarantees (Jonathan Holmes and Michael Frazier) and two have non-guaranteed deals (Tarik Black and Jabari Brown).

For the sake of argument, let’s also include Robert Upshaw as a player who will end up getting an invite to Lakers’ camp. Let’s also assume he’ll get a partial guaranteed deal, similar to the ones Holmes and Frazier recently signed. Heading into camp, then, the Lakers would have 18 players (and maybe more) competing for, at most, 15 roster spots.

While it’s fair to assume the Lakers would probably keep all the guaranteed guys on their roster, that’s not a foregone conclusion. While Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre are both well regarded by the Lakers and have team friendly deals, neither should be considered “locks” to make the final team. I’m not saying they would be cut (that seems unlikely to me), but it’s very possible both could be looked at as possible pieces to trade away should a deal bring back a better prospect or generate flexibility.

In other words, expect there to be as many as seven players — Sacre, Kelly, Black, Brown, Frazier, Holmes, and Upshaw — to be competing for the final three to four roster spots. What gives this competition even more interesting is that those seven players represent exact position battles between an incumbent (or two) and a guy who, theoretically, is fighting to fill that same role for this team:

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With about a month left until the start of training camp, the Lakers continue to add talent to their roster. The most recent addition, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, is Brazilian Point Guard Marcelo Huertas:

Free-agent guard Marcelo Huertas – one of the Euroleague’s most accomplished playmakers – has agreed to a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Huertas also provides some background as how he believes he can be successful in the NBA:

“There’s so much more space in the NBA,” Huertas told Yahoo Sports in April. “It’s not like Europe now, where you have one guy full-time in the paint. Space is harder to come by. One of my strengths is playing in the pick-and-roll, finding open guys and making shots in the mid-range game off the dribble.

“I think that part is harder to find now, because you mostly have guys who get all the way to the hole, or they’re three-point shooters. And if I’m open, and I can get my feet set, I’m going to make a lot of those kind of shots.”

Huertas believes he can make a difference in the locker room, too, by mentoring young players and meshing with veterans. For the Lakers, Huertas could give them an ideal partner as Russell is groomed to become the franchise’s cornerstone.

“If you look at NBA rosters, there are unbelievable starting point guards, but maybe not as many guys who can come off the bench able to run the team, score the ball, as well as being able to be a leader for young players,” Huertas said. “Those are things I know I’ll be able to bring with me.”

Mitch Kupchak and Byron Scott have both mentioned their want for another point guard — preferably a veteran — on the team and it seems they have found him.

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We are deep into the doldrums of the NBA Summer. We’re a month past summer league and have a month to go until training camps open. This part of the year is the off-season version of a mid-Wednesday night game in the beginning of March. What better time, then, for a nice big list of rankings for NBA players?

Sports Illustrated has obliged us fans and kicked off their annual Top 100 for the upcoming season. You can find their list of players 100-51 here.

Anytime this list (or one like it) is released, Lakers’ fans look for one name: Kobe Bryant. Many do this just to see how upset they can get — I mean, Kobe might do this too — as they find the right amount of outrage in response to where the pundits have placed him in contrast to his peers.

Well, this year, Kobe has come in slotted in spot #54. Here, Ben Golliver, explains the ranking:

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The Lakers currently have 16 players under contract, but will look at to add anywhere from two to four more players to their roster for training camp. Among the players they have shown interest in is former Kings Forward Eric Moreland. From Shams Charania of Real GM:

Free agent Eric Moreland has multiple deals to compete for a roster spot in NBA training camp, with the Detroit Pistons as frontrunners, league sources told RealGM. The Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings are strong under consideration for Moreland, sources said, and their front offices expect the 6-foot-10 forward to settle upon a destination once the final offers are presented. The Kings waived Moreland on July 29 before his contract guarantee date for the 2015-16 season.

After having a good summer league with the Kings (6.4 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 20 minutes a game), Moreland is looking to catch on and find a more permanent role with a team. That said, any contract and camp invite from the Lakers isn’t likely to bring that security.

The Lakers are already very deep at PF with no fewer than 5 players who could draw consideration for minutes at that spot. There might be more flexibility if Moreland could play C, but with a listed weight of 218 pounds, that’s an unlikely solution.

Ultimately, then, I’d not expect Moreland to stick even if he did choose the Lakers. There are simply too many players he’d need to unseat to earn a regular season roster spot, nearly all of them players the team has already invested in. He would likely just be camp fodder who could compete with the other Lakers’ bigs in practice and provide an extra body as insurance should injury occur or if a player needs a day off for rest.

Whether that situation is enough to entice him would likely depend on how he and his agent view the opportunities with the Kings and the Pistons. Detroit currently has more guaranteed contracts than roster spots and will need to make cuts to get down to the maximum roster size. The Kings offer familiarity, but also just drafted Willie Cauley-Stein and added Kosta Koufos and Quincy Acy in free agency.

Whichever team Moreland chooses, then, offers an uphill climb to a roster spot. We’ll see if the Lakers end up being that team.

The last update we had on Robert Upshaw was that the Lakers had no immediate plans to sign the undrafted big man. That report, combined with the Lakers inking undrafted players Jonathan Holmes and Michael Frazier to contracts this summer cast real doubts about whether Upshaw really would find his way into Lakers’ camp.

However, in an interview with Scout.com following the Seattle Pro-Am game in Seattle on Friday, Upshaw gave an update on his status with the team:

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If you have not read all three parts of Eric Pincusinterview with Lakers Vice President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss, you should. Pincus doesn’t try to play “gotcha” or spin Buss’ comments in either a positive or negative way, instead giving us Buss’ words directly for our own interpretation. It’s refreshing to hear what Buss says in this format, even if you don’t agree with what he’s saying.

In the wake of Pincus’ work, one of the more under-discussed topics is Buss’ slight hedge regarding the summer of 2016 and building through free agency:

What the Lakers didn’t accomplish this summer was to sign a major free agent.

“It’s just that it takes time to build a core that guys want to play with,” Buss said. “I understand a superstar doesn’t want to come in and say, ‘Oh, we still have two or three years of rebuilding.’ I think with Jordan Clarkson, Russell, Randle, even Hibbert … we’re getting a core of seven or eight players.”

With the NBA’s new national television deal kicking in next year, the Lakers could have up to $60 million to spend in July, enough to go after two max-level free agents, including Kevin Durant.

“If a big name or two came, we have the room. That’s the key,” Buss said. “We’ve kept our flexibility.”

Buss’ first quote gives us a bit more background into what he and the rest of the front office has learned through the past three years of free agent meetings and recruiting pitches*. From Dwight Howard to LaMarcus Aldridge (and even Greg Monroe), the Lakers saw their top targets sign with teams in better position to win games sooner. These results seem to have left a lasting impression.

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Jim Buss sat down with Eric Pincus of the LA Times for a wide ranging interview on Thursday and provided plenty of insight on all things Lakers. Pincus’ entire interview is well worth your time as the Lakers’ part-owner and top executive on the basketball side takes us behind the curtain on where his mindset is heading into a critical season in the team’s rebuild.

And while Buss’ thoughts on D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and more deserve your attention, the most intriguing part of their discussion, at least for me, relates to none other than Kobe Bryant, his future with the team, and whether this upcoming season may be the superstar’s last:

“We’re going to approach it like it is, but that doesn’t mean it is,” Buss said of Bryant. “I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘This is it, Kobe, you’re done,’ because it’s not my decision, it’s his decision.”

While this seems like the politic answer, Buss does elaborate further:

So is this Bryant’s final year with the team? “My arms are like this,” Buss said, holding his arms wide open, about Bryant’s future.

“He just has to know, at that age, and that many miles on you, what is your role? We’ll explain the role, and if he still wants to do that and that’s how he wants to go out, that’s fine with me.”

This is the first time anyone within the Lakers’ organization has ever even hinted at there being any sort of conditions for Kobe returning or that he might need to accept a reduced role if he does want to return. And, frankly, it’s good to hear the organization is taking this approach.

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Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 27, 2015 — 10 Comments

It’s late August. There is no NBA action anywhere in sight. What better time for a hodgepodge of links and notes than now? Onto our latest edition of Fast Break Thoughts…

*Yesterday we talked about the pressure D’Angelo Russell is facing as a #2 overall pick and playing for a Lakers’ organization looking for their next great player. Well, yesterday Russell also made an appearance on ESPN Radio and did an interview with Mike Trudell and Mychal Thompson. The interview was transcribed at Lakers.com and can be found here.

*The entire interview is worth your time, but one quote that stood out to me was when he discussed playing next to Jordan Clarkson:

I feel like we’re dangerous for our team. We both rebound. We both can push the break, and we both can run the wing. So if he gets it and I’m running the wing, he can set up the offense or make the right decisions and vice versa with me. I feel like it’s dangerous, and we can play together easily. I think it will just take some time.

*I’m glad Russell added the caveat that “it will just take some time” to his answer, because it will. The relationship he describes is only developed through reps and feeling each other out on the floor. Russell is correct that both guys can do a lot of the same things on the floor, the process of how they sort out how they get on the same wavelength is what will be interesting to watch.

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