Andre Drummond is officially a member of the Lakers now, signing his deal on Sunday after clearing waivers earlier in the day. Drummond went out his business of winning the press conference on Monday, saying all the right things about his excitement about joining the team and how he envisions contributing, particularly on defense.
The goal now, however, is putting those projections into practice in order to help the team win actual basketball games and not just the media session with reporters. On Tuesday we found out that Drummond will fill a role that was reportedly being presented to him when he was making his decision on what team to play for at all: starting center. Silver Screen and Roll’s Harrison Faigen has the report:
With Drummond now a starter, that means Marc Gasol will move to a reserve role. The nature of that role is not yet determined, but to say there’s some murkiness would be fair. Again, friend of the site, Harrison gives us some insight:
Now, I wasn’t in the media session so I do not know if Vogel brought up the idea of Gasol potentially (or, in this case, not yet) seeking a buyout unprompted or if it was in response to a direct question. That said, the fact that it came up at all does say something about the potential to not only have Gasol lose his starting role, but to potentially his position in the main rotation entirely. The second part of Vogel’s quote can take on different meanings too, but one interpretation of “we’re going to need all 3 of our centers” is, when reading between the lines, that at least one of them may not play as much, if at all, until a very specific matchup reveals there’s a need for him to.1Note, I’m almost positive that when Vogel references 3 centers, he is not including Anthony Davis in that mix. AD starts at power forward and it’s known he doesn’t see himself as a full time C, which is reinforced by how the Lakers have used him in his season-plus with the team.
For what it’s worth, this idea isn’t one that should come out of left field for anyone. When discussing the Drummond addition on the latest Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete Zayas said that he would likely extract Marc from the rotation entirely and simply go with Drummond and Trez as the core center rotation. And while I argued for not taking that approach and finding a shift or two a game for Marc, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that, when everyone is healthy, there’s simply not enough minutes to play 4 players in that C slot and expect everyone to be happy with it. The Lakers had a tricky enough time finding minutes for Dwight and JaVale with AD taking more of those minutes as the playoffs advanced, so playing 4 guys there just isn’t going to work big picture unless AD doesn’t play any center minutes at all. And we know that’s not happening.
We’ll see what happens with Marc, then, but it’s clear that if any one of the Lakers bigs is going to be relegated to the bench, it’s very likely to be him. Trez is simply too good an offensive player and Drummond, even if he’s knew, did not choose the Lakers in order to ride the bench. The expectation is that he’ll play and, potentially, play a lot (beyond just start). And while Marc is playing better than I think he’s been given credit for and is still an amazingly smart and effective defensive player, the way things are shaking out simply do not favor him.
Is that fair to Marc? It’s not. And, if things do go that way, I’ll feel bad for him. That said, I hope he does stick around and does not seek a buyout because, as Vogel noted, I can imagine he’d have value during the rest of the season, not only in any potential playoff matchup with the Nuggets, Suns, and 76ers, but also as insurance should AD be out for longer than expected or if his injury issues re-emerge down the line. Of course, that’s not the role that Marc signed up for and in projecting things out that way, if was not happy no one could blame him.
That said, the Lakers are trying to win a championship and are going to seek out any edge they can, particularly on the margins. And for a team that is built around LeBron and AD, that really translates to “anyone besides LeBron and AD”. I think we saw that in the lead up to the trade deadline with Dennis and KCP ending up in trade rumors and we’re seeing it now with Marc after the Drummond acquisition. And while it’s not always fair or, even pleasant, it’s the NBA and that’s how it works.