I don’t know the right word to describe the Lakers’ off-season, really. Maybe a single word doesn’t do it justice. There’s been lots of noise — an incredible number of innuendo, rumors, and outright leaks — but not a ton of action. However, when things have happened, they’ve been fairly big.
The D’Angelo Russell trade came somewhat out of left field even though there were rumors in the days prior saying the Lakers were open to dealing him. The Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signing was on everyone’s radar the minute the Pistons pulled his qualifying offer, but when the news ultimately broke it was still surprising. These moves, along with the drafting of Lonzo Ball, have remade the roster and have fans excited.
Realistically, though, the work for the front office is not done. Here is their current depth chart (*note, some of these guys are swing/combo players — more on that later):
PG: Lonzo Ball, Jordan Clarkson
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Corey Brewer, Josh Hart
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Luol Deng, Kyle Kuzma
C: Brook Lopez, Ivica Zubac, Thomas Bryant
That’s 13 players. The Lakers also have Alex Caruso signed to a 2-way contract with the South Bay Lakers (SBL), so, in theory, he could find some minutes on the big team throughout the year at PG. But, leaving him out of the mix for now, the Lakers clearly have some roster imbalance right now.
And this exists even if you start to move some players around.
Say, for example, you don’t think Clarkson is a PG and you slot him at SG instead. To compensate, say you move Corey Brewer to a backup at SF to both give Ingram a backup and to keep a better balance at SG where you don’t necessarily need 4 guys. Now, you can also slide Deng to SF to make sure you don’t have 4 guys at PF and to give you a bit more depth at SF behind Ingram. When all that shuffling is done, you don’t have a backup PG and you still have the issue of having Brewer and Deng as the primary wings behind Ingram.
Even without adding additional players, some of these things can be mitigated by tweaking the rotations and lineups. If you don’t have a legit backup point guard who is a “true” PG, you just play Clarkson there or pass off some ball-handling duties to Brandon Ingram or Julius Randle. If you then need some minutes at SG, play Hart. If you really don’t want to play Deng or Brewer for extended minutes, platoon them and give Kuzma some run at SF as well. These aren’t ideal solutions, but you make the best with what you have then go out there and compete. Coaches love the “next guy up” speech and while they don’t want to make that a lifestyle, coaches are wired to make things work as best they can.
However, what’s clear is that the Lakers actually could use a couple of more guys on this roster. They need another guy who can play some PG and, really, another wing too.
The front office knows all about the PG need. They’ve met with Derrick Rose* and Ian Clark** already. Tyler Ennis, I imagine, remains a possibility. There’s been less reporting on the team looking at wings, but I think they should be. As it stands now, the team will likely play with a lot of 3 “guard” lineups, with KCP or Clarkson moonlighting at SF for stretches when Ingram is on the bench. Kuzma could see some time there too, but his NBA effectiveness is speculation at this point (even if it’s hard not to feel good about him after his summer league play).
In terms of names on the wing the team could consider: Tony Allen, Monta Ellis, Shabazz Muhammad, Brandon Rush, KJ McDaniels, and Mike Dunleavy are all potential fits in terms of their respective games, skill sets, or where they are in their careers. I won’t make the case for any specific player, but I think they’d need to be acutely aware that they may not play much (if at all), but could also see a steady role if things break right for them. This could be anything from Deng/Brewer being unplayable on the wing to, knock on wood, an injury to a key rotation player in front of them. The Lakers are so shallow, this must be a consideration from both the FO’s perspective and potential FA’s.
As we inch towards August, I do expect these things to get resolved soon. The market still has a fair amount of players out there, including several RFA’s who are likely getting upset about there being a lack of movement towards a long term deal (I’m looking at you, Nerlens Noel). But, really, the Lakers should be deciding on at least one player and, maybe two in next week or two in order to fill out the roster. For now, though, we wait. Which, for this off-season, is par for the course.
*Derrick Rose looks like he’ll be a Cavalier soon, if not already by the time you read this. I don’t have any analysis on his fit on the Lakers. If I have to write that piece, I will.
**Ian Clark isn’t really a point guard — at least on offense. He doesn’t really initiate the offense and is not a primary ball handler. In terms of what he does well on offense, he’s definitely more of a SG. He would be PG defensively, though. Or, at least, that’s where the coaches would likely put him considering the size disadvantage he’d be operating under by guarding pure SG’s or, gasp, SF’s. Not to say he’d defend PG’s well either, but, well…yeah. Anyways, I remain intrigued by Clark as a rotation player, especially at the price the Lakers would be getting him for should he end up being signed. At a higher salary, I’d be less inclined to sign him.