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:
- Center: Sacre vs. Black vs. Upshaw
- Stretch PF: Kelly vs. Holmes
- Shooting Guard: Brown vs. Frazier
If I were scoring today, I’d say that Sacre, Black, and Kelly are all on pretty firm ground* with Brown right on the edge of that group. These are the players the team is familiar with and has invested time, money, and resources into. Next are the three newcomers.
Just because that’s where it stands now, though, does not mean that’s how it will end up.
With the signing of Huertas and, with that a potential full time shift to SG for Clarkson, Brown may now become expendable. Further, if Frazier — a player with a reputation as a lights out shooter who also was a defensive stopper at Florida — has a great camp, he might beat out Brown outright.
In that same vein, if Holmes continues his hot shooting from summer league and shows that his defense and rebounding from college can translate to the pros, Kelly may be in some trouble. Just like if Upshaw comes into camp in great shape, has a great attitude, and proves that his past troubles are behind him, either Black or Sacre could be seen as expendable.
It’s just as easy the front-runners remain in their favored positions, of course. But watching how these guys battle, how they respond to competition, and whether enough is done to make the front office reevaluate how they want to construct the back end of the roster will be one of the key side stories of training camp.