Jordan Clarkson. David Nwaba. Ivica Zubac. Thomas Bryant. Alex Caruso. And most recently, Talen Horton-Tucker. All are players — among others — who have shown bonafide NBA potential after developing with the South Bay Lakers in the NBA G League.
Who will be the next players to grind their way through the Lakers’ minor league affiliate to find success at the NBA level? We won’t find out this year, because — as Silver Screen and Roll first reported — the G League season is set to take place in a bubble this year, with Atlanta as the currently favored landing spot, and according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, South Bay is not planning to take part in the proposed minor league season (emphasis mine):
And just like the NBA bubble, which invited only 22 of the league’s 30 teams to complete the season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, a G League bubble would not be able to handle the logistics to accommodate all 29 teams at a single site. As such, G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim recently asked franchises to volunteer to forgo the season, hoping to settle on anywhere from 14 to 20 teams to complete the season with, sources told ESPN.
Preliminarily, 10 teams, including the South Bay Lakers and the Maine Red Claws (the Boston Celtics’ affiliate) indicated they will opt out, sources told ESPN. The G League has received commitments from about a dozen teams, including the Ignite, sources told ESPN, and await final decisions from a handful of other franchises. With the details surrounding the upcoming season being so fluid, the teams on the fence are not sure what exactly they would be committing to, sources told ESPN.
That South Bay would likely skip the bubble was first reported by JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors, but McMenamin is as plugged in to the Lakers as a reporter can be, so it would appear this is all the confirmation we need, and that South Bay really will not play this season, barring a last-minute upset. That would partially explain the weird situation with the Lakers’ Exhibit 10 players, who were signed and waived by the team without ever reporting to training camp or ever being publicly acknowledged by the organization. If the team is not going to play a G League season, it has less incentive than it normally would to look at such fringe prospects, and likely wanted to give them a shot to catch on elsewhere.
As far as what this functionally means for the Lakers, now two-way players Devontae Cacok and Kostas Antetokounmpo — as well as Horton-Tucker, who spent most of last season in the G League — will presumably spend all of their time with the parent roster, giving the Lakers extra options for reinforcements if players are lost to coronavirus infections, quarantines mandated by the team’s health protocols, or even just run-of-the-mill injuries this season.
In normal seasons, two-way players can only spend 45 days with their parent team in the NBA, but this year the NBA lifted those restrictions, and changed the rules so that such players can instead only be active for 50 games, but otherwise theoretically spend all their time with the parent team. They will reportedly be paid a flat rate of $449,155, instead of having their paychecks determined by their days of NBA service.
With no limits on how much their two-way players can be around — and those players costing the same amount either way — the Lakers may have determined that there is no point in paying $500,000 to participate in the G League bubble when they can develop their main prospects on their roster in games and in practice, especially with the NBA announcing today that active gameday rosters have expanded from 13 players to 15 this season in order to give teams more reinforcements.
Regardless of the genesis for the decision, though, it seems we’ll be seeing a lot more of Horton-Tucker, Cacok and Antetokounmpo’s progress on the big stage this season, or not at all, because without the G League, there is no avenue to easy playing time and possessions on a roster where they have a lot more leeway. They’ll have to earn everything they get with the defending champs this year, or they won’t see the floor.