The Los Angeles Lakers were dealt a major blow this week with one of their best defenders opting out of returning to finish the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando. Veteran guard Avery Bradley, who has been on the fence about returning since the league green-lit resumption of play, has officially announced he won’t be joining the purple and gold as they attempt to win the franchise’s 17th title.
Bradley may not be LeBron James or Anthony Davis in terms of impact on this Lakers squad, but this team will sorely lose what he brings to the table night in and night out. The 29-year-old guard is arguably the best on-ball defender on the squad and played exceptionally well before the NBA season was suspended.
In 12 of the last 17 games, Bradley was starting to impose his will on both ends of the floor while proving to the Lakers brass that they made the right choice on bringing him in to bolster the backcourt. He scored in double digits in those 12 games highlighted by an impressive performance against the division rival L.A. Clippers, where he caused a lot of problems for his former team going 6-for-12 from deep finishing with 24 points.
One of Bradley’s biggest flaws over the years has been his inability to stay healthy. He had his bouts with injuries this season but was able to play in 49 of 63 games played by the Lakers prior to the hiatus.
Bradley’s absence will impact the Lakers as they try to contend for a title against the likes of heavyweights like Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks. His defense will be sorely missed as he could’ve helped tremendously containing opposing stars in the backcourt.
With Bradley now officially ruled out for the return to the floor, the Lakers will need to find a comparable replacement. Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters, and Kentavius Caldwell-Pope will help shoulder the load, but another guard may be needed. J.R. Smith has been mentioned as the frontrunner to fill the void in the backcourt, but he’s not the answer, in my opinion.
Smith brings shooting and playoff experience, along with knowing how to play alongside LeBron. However, he doesn’t seem like the right fit when you consider the alternatives.
Here are two players I believe the Lakers should strongly consider other than Smith.
2. Nick Young – The Return of Swaggy P
During his short time with the Lakers, Nick Young became a fan favorite for a few different reasons. One, Young is as likable as any player I’ve ever been around in Los Angeles while also being as competitive as they come. He famously didn’t back down from Kobe Bryant during their time playing together and showed some grit in an otherwise forgettable time in team history.
Young had some of his best years of his NBA career playing for his hometown Lakers. He averaged a career-high 17.9 points per game while shooting 38.6 percent from beyond the arc during the 2013-14 season with Los Angeles and had two other seasons with the team averaging 13 points or more.
During the 2016-17 season, Young answered the call from new head coach Luke Walton to step up on both ends of the floor. Young went on to shoot a career-high 40.4 percent from distance earning an invitation to the three-point shooting contest during All-Star Weekend. He also made an impression with his play on defense that season, which in turn helped lead to signing with the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors the following year.
Although Young had some success in Los Angeles, he hasn’t played since a four-game stint with the Denver Nuggets during the 2018-19 campaign. There’s no telling whether he’s in shape or how much rust may hinder his game, but he’s an option the Lakers should look into regardless.
1. Darren Collison – An Ideal Choice
By far, the best option to replace Bradley is Darren Collison. The Lakers heavily recruited Collison earlier in the season with the veteran guard, letting it be known that he was strongly considering returning to the NBA after his abrupt retirement last summer.
Collison, who could’ve signed a deal upwards of $10 million per season in July of last year, shocked the NBA world by stepping away from the game ahead of his 32nd birthday. Although he wasn’t putting up numbers as he did with the Sacramento Kings, Collison was a solid guard for the Indiana Pacers in the two seasons he was with the team and was receiving interest from multiple teams before his retirement became official.
With the Lakers looking to fill a roster spot in February following the NBA trade deadline, the team showed considerable interest in signing Collison. The Los Angeles native was rumored to be seriously considering signing with either the Clippers, who he played for earlier in his career or the Lakers.
The Lakers appeared to have the inside track as they invited him to a game and courted him behind the scenes with Kurt Rambis, Rob Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss putting in the work to sign him. It seemed like a matter of time before he’d be wearing the purple and gold, but that wasn’t the case as the UCLA product elected to stay retired.
Four months later, the Lakers need Collison more than ever, with Bradley leaving a gaping hole. Collison can help replace the defensive intensity in the backcourt while also being another ballhandler and offensive threat on the perimeter.
He brings more to the table than Smith, Young, and any other guard available at this time. The real question is whether he’s ready to play again and if he’s been staying in shape during the quarantine to resume play in the coming weeks.
If he is and interested in returning, the Lakers have to jump on that as soon as possible!