The Lakers beat the Blazers for their third preseason win, though their first in a full length game against an NBA team. Funny how the exhibition season works, sometimes. This game was meaningful, but not because it led to a win. As we wrote before the game, this was likely the last chance for the bubble players to make an impression before cuts were made. With the game in the books, then, the coaches and front office have to make the tough decisions on who to release and who to keep on the final roster.
As with any roster decision, more variables than “can he play?” will be considered. The Lakers are balancing short term goals of winning as many games as possible versus long term goals of having the best roster they can in two to three years. There are also financial considerations — even if only small ones — on whether a player has any guaranteed salary or not. There’s also positional balance and depth considerations.
With that said, and before we get to who I think will make the final roster, a couple of notes about positional battles and my general thoughts on how the factors above might be weighed against each other…
*The toughest decision will likely end up being whether the team can keep 4 centers and at what expense that comes from. Hibbert is a guarantee, but none of the Sacre/Black/Upshaw trio has played particularly poorly and all have had enough moments to make their case for belonging on the final roster.
*Untangling the wing depth will be difficult — especially with Kobe being such a major part of the roster while still posing questions about his availability due to health concerns. If Kobe was 100% reliable, I’d imagine cutting any/all of the Jabari Brown/Metta World Peace/Michael Frazier trio becomes easier. But, since that’s not the case, you have to wonder if keeping one or more becomes a priority. If the answer to that question is yes, then you have to decide which one and why one over the other. Each has their strengths and weaknesses and a case can be made for any over the others.
*I feel bad for Jonathan Holmes. The guy didn’t get his chance to run in the 4th quarter of the game against the Warriors due to the game being called early because of the slippery floor. So he ends up getting burn during the 2nd quarter of Monday’s game, dives for a loose ball, and promptly separates his shoulder. He’s now out indefinitely and, in my opinion, likely to be cut. Yes he has a $100K guarantee on his salary and it may have been he would have gotten cut anyway, with the hope he clears waivers and could be assigned to the D-Fenders. But to get hurt the way he did after not seeing as many minutes in the preseason as he’d surely hoped, it’s just a bummer.
With all that out of the way, here is my final roster projection before cuts are announced:
PG: D’Angelo Russell, Marcelo Huertas
SG: Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams
SF: Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Anthony Brown
PF: Julius Randle, Brandon Bass, Ryan Kelly, Larry Nance Jr.
C: Roy Hibbert, Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, Robert Upshaw
A few notes on this projection:
*The toughest call is whether or not Sacre, Upshaw, or both make this team. In this projection, both make it and that comes at the expense of any additional wing the team could keep. I have my doubts it plays out the way I have it above, but in balancing the needs of the team today versus long term projections, I have a hard time seeing Upshaw getting cut loose. And as much as people rail on Sacre, I don’t see the team cutting a 7-footer who helps defensively, is a good practice player, and a great teammate. He also provides insurance against anything going awry with Upshaw. So, while it seems strange to keep both, hedging a bet on Upshaw with the safer Sacre is a strong possibility from my seat.
*I don’t know if the Lakers would really sign Metta to a deal only to waive him, but that’s how I have it above. Do I think he’s a great practice player and mentor for the young guys? Yes. Do I think the team would rather keep him? Yes. So, I do think it’s entirely possible any of the non-Hibbert centers gets cut to make room for Metta. That’s just not how I have it going. We’ll see.
*I’ve been hard on Jabari Brown this preseason, but cutting him is still a bit hard. He’s a scoring threat who can create his own shot and work off the ball. He’s developing into a somewhat reliable three point shooter. Still, though, he’s overlap with Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, and Young. That’s just too many guys to hurdle for minutes.
*For me, cutting Frazier is much harder than cutting Brown. Frazier has more two way potential, has a better long term outlook as a three point shooter, and is already a better defensive player. Making room for him would be great, but if he clears waivers and is willing, he will go to the D-Fenders where the team can still keep an eye on him.
*Ryan Kelly played his way onto this team. He shot well, played better defense, and just came into camp playing a smarter and more mistake free game. I don’t yet know how he fits into the rotation, but he’s shown enough to be one of the final 15.