The Los Angeles Lakers are down a superstar, as Anthony Davis (Achilles) will likely sit out until after the All-Star break.
Following Tuesday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves — in which the supporting cast perfectly compensated for AD’s absence — the 22-7 Lakers have eight games until the break. They don’t necessarily need reinforcements.
But the upcoming schedule is no cakewalk. After a showdown with the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, the LakeShow will host a Finals rematch with the Miami Heat on Saturday. Next, L.A. will take on the Washington Wizards (2/22), Utah Jazz (2/24), Portland Trail Blazers (2/26), Golden State Warriors (2/28), and Phoenix Suns (3/2), and Sacramento Kings (3/3).
The good news, beyond inadvertently strengthening LeBron James’ MVP narrative: the Lakers’ have won five of six games without their All-Star big this season, who has dealt with a litany of ailments.
Before Davis went down, the Lakers have kept an extra roster spot open, presumably reserved for a buyout addition. However, the signings of Montrezl Harrell and Wesley Matthews hard-capped the team at $138.9 million, meaning they would need to waive locker-room favorite Quinn Cook before Feb. 24 (when his deal is guaranteed) to sign a buyout guy. Otherwise, they can wait a few weeks and sign a player for a prorated veteran’s minimum. By then, Davis could be back.
The Lakers are in an even less desirable position to swing a trade ahead before the March 25 deadline. The only players on the roster earning adequate salaries (James, Davis, Harrell, Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) are valuable rotation pieces and/or Klutch clients who won’t be dealt for anyone not named Bradley Beal. The (relatively) meager salaries across the rest of the roster and utter lack of draft capital make striking a deal for a quality player exceedingly complex.
At the very least, the Lakers are doing their due diligence. On a recent episode of the “Woj Pod,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski speculated that L.A. is “poking around” the buyout market.
If the Lakers do decide to add a piece — either for reasons of extra depth/insurance, rim-protection, or 3-point shooting — here are a few players whose representatives GM Rob Pelinka should reach out to.
A few caveats: JJ Redick would be included here, but he wants to be close to home in Brooklyn. JaVale McGee might be bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers but is ineligible to return to the Lakers. Finally, L.A. would assuredly be intrigued by Otto Porter Jr. or Garrett Temple should the Chicago Bulls go the buyout route. As long as Chicago remains in the playoff race, though, that’s not going to happen. As for Blake Griffin? Hard pass.
First, Ariza would represent a nostalgic connection to the Kobe-era Lakers, who won a title in 2009 with Ariza starting at small forward. (Ariza played in L.A. from 2007-09.)
Secondly, Ariza has been on the Lakers’ radar, as The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported in December.
At 35, Ariza can’t wreak havoc all over the court as he once did, but the veteran still possesses a valuable skill set that any team could use. He’s a 3-and-D poster child and remains an elite corner specialist. Like Andre Iguodala, he’ll always have ranginess, decent athleticism, and an understanding of the game that makes him a plus-defender.
In 21 starts for Portland last season, he averaged a respectable 11.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, hitting 40 percent of his 3s. He has not played this season for OKC (personal reasons) and is due $12.5 million.
He’s played in 102 playoff games over his 16-year career, a quality these Lakers are seeking.
“Sam Presti traditionally does not do contract buyouts,” Woj pointed out on his recent podcast. “He’s usually been able to find trade for guys, so maybe Ariza gets a trade somewhere and then gets bought out if the Lakers can’t trade for him, but that’s; another player who I think will be in great demand among the contenders. He’s somebody who has shown up in big moments, a really experienced and versatile forward.”
Charania also noted the Lakers interest in another OKC veteran…
Hill would be one of those signings that would irk the rest of the league, much to the delight of Lakers Nation.
Another respected and solid vet, Hill led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage in 2019-20, and he’s shooting nearly 39 percent in 14 appearances for OKC this season. The Lakers have painfully regressed to the mean after starting the season red-hot from beyond-the-arc. At this point, it’s legitimately unclear if the Lakers are an above-, below-, or exactly average 3-point shooting squad.
Furthermore, while Schröder, Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker, and of course, James, offer varying degrees of perimeter skills, the Lakers would benefit from one more reliable point guard type.
Ellington is not as good as Hill — he’s not a combo guard — but he might look more enticing with each passing cold shooting performance from the Lakers.
The 33-year-old sharpshooter is having a career-best season from downtown, hitting 44.4 percent of his 3s in 20 games for the Detroit Pistons.
The Lakers witnessed his accuracy first-hand on Jan. 28 as he dropped 20 points and hit six triples in Detroit’s easy win.
The Washington Wizards are 8-17 this season but are still in contention for the play-in tournament in the East.
Lopez has played in all 25 games (starting nine) and is doing the most with his opportunities. He’s averaging 14.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting a career-best 58.8 percent from the field.
Whether the Wiz fall out of contention, trade Bradley Beal, or neither, the franchise may still prefer to create minutes for Moritz Wagner and give Alex Len more chances to resuscitate his career.
Conversely, Thomas Bryant was recently lost for the season, so the team may feel like they can’t lose Lopez. Plus, they can’t fully tank as long as Westbrook and Beal are in the lineup, so they might as well say in the playoff hunt as long as possible.
If Lopez did become available, though, the Lakers present a suitable fit. The 32-year-old Hollywood native has played for seven teams in his 13-year career, but, unlike his brother Brook, has never suited up for one of his hometown squads. In the locker room, Sideshow Rob is a kooky but enjoyable personality. On the court, he’s an experienced rim-protector and box-out maestro with a sense of positional awareness, basketball IQ, and devotion to the little things that align with how Frank Vogel self-characterizes his team’s identity.
This name won’t exactly fire anybody up — no offense to Davis, a popular dude in league circles — and he isn’t exactly a needle-mover.
At the moment, Davis doesn’t have a true role in Minnesota, earning 13.9 minutes per game in 19 appearances. The 31-year-old offers solid insurance and can and redirect some close-range shots while AD is out, but that’s the ceiling of his impact. That doesn’t mean it would be an unworthy signing, but ultimately negligible in the title chase. Watch this name, though.
Financial constraints aside, Pelinka wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t survey the market — especially considering the appeal the Lakers pose for veterans.
That said, the Lakers’ best course of action may be to ride out the storm until Davis returns then seek cheaper options on the wire. After all, at full strength, it’s hard to argue that their roster as currently constructed doesn’t have the requisite talent, depth, versatility, and star power to repeat as champs.