Despite the awkward fit and the limited production, Drummond — much to the chagrin of Lakers Twitter, Marc Gasol, and Montrezl Harrell — was slotted in as the Lakers starting center from his inauspicious debut against the Milwaukee Bucks through Game 5 of the first round.
Drummond technically averaged a double-double with Los Angeles, but the Lakers won 12 of his 26 starts, including playoffs. Natural spacing issues, a lack of practice time, and the inconsistent availability of his teammates prevented any chance for Drummond to gel with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest.
Within weeks, it became apparent — by the numbers and eye test — that the Lakers were better off with Gasol, who could splash threes, ignite ball movement, and defend more adeptly.
In the Lakers' final game of the season, Game 6, Gasol — who started the first 35 games of 2020-21 before being relegated to third-string duty with Drummond's arrival— was re-inserted into the starting lineup, while Drummond received his lone DNP with Los Angeles after being played off the court by Deandre Ayton. (Ironically, the Lakers' last gasp run came with LeBron at center).
On Tuesday, in his latest newsletter, The New York Times's Marc Stein officially reported what we confidently surmised all along: The Big Penguin was assured the starting spot by the organization.
“The Lakers promised Drummond a starting role to secure his commitment in free agency, according to two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.”
Drummond turned down more lucrative offers in order to start on a championship contender ahead of his unrestricted free agency. From day one, Frank Vogel never wavered or hesitated when asked whether Drummond would start.
Also worth noting: Lakers GM Rob Pelinka is Drummond's former agent. Pelinka and Vogel spoke glowingly of Drummond after exit interviews, and both sides have expressed enthusiasm about potentially continuing the partnership, from the introductory press conference through last Friday.
“I had an incredible time in the short stint I was here. Looking forward to building more with them,” he said.
When asked if that means he’s coming back, Drummond quickly backpedaled.
“‘Looking forward to,'” he clarified. “August is right around the corner, when the time comes to have those discussions, I’ll have those discussions.”
But instead of boosting his value with a strong playoff run, Drummond's price tag on the open market is uncertain. The $15-$20 million offers may not be there — which the Lakers can't afford, anyway — meaning Drummond could re-up for the mid-level ($6 million or so) and try to prove his worth over a full season in Los Angeles.
In that case, no starting role will be guaranteed.