EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Lakers may have the best record in the Western Conference (45-12), but they still have a lot of figure out before the postseason.
Are they going to add someone off of the buyout market? How will they break down the playoff rotation whether they add a player to their roster or not? These are all questions the organization as a whole will have to decide on the answers to, with Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel right at the forefront.
With just 25 games left in the year, those decisions are coming soon, and at practice on Wednesday, Vogel offered some insight into how he’d be evaluating his various personnel groupings over the remainder of the season.
“We look at different things, and we evaluate endlessly on a daily basis. It happens every time we practice, every time we play a game,” Vogel said. “All the data that goes into the mental computer, and then you process things that may play out for you in the playoffs. It’s an important time, and it will be leading up to the playoffs.”
As the playoffs approach, though, Vogel had to admit that there was still one area that he’d fallen short in by his own evaluation process. He wanted to get the players on the roster familiar with each other in all kinds of different lineups, but said that goal was “not one that I’ve really achieved quite frankly.”
“We’re still in the mindset of we want to win as many games as we can, and we don’t want to tinker and experiment too much,” Vogel added.
The Lakers are running out of time to tinker and experiment at all, and unless Vogel is planning to play an 11-man rotation in the playoffs — or even a 12-man one, should the Lakers pick up another player off the buyout market — some tough decisions on playing time are going to have to come soon.
Anthony Davis and LeBron James will likely see their minutes go up in the postseason. That requires time to come from somewhere. After them, the next closest players in minutes are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and Avery Bradley. Don’t expect any of them to get fully excised from the rotation.
The next grouping is more interesting: Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris and JaVale McGee. None of them will likely be booted from the rotation entirely, but Rondo (by virtue of playing solely point guard, which is what James essentially functions as while on the floor) and McGee (with the Lakers going to Davis at center more) would appear to be prime candidates to get their minutes chopped a tad. That still would be an 11-man rotation if they aren’t cut out completely, which is larger than most playoff teams go to when games really start to matter, and all without factoring in the possibility of the Lakers bringing in another buyout guy.
Vogel has said all year that having to divvy up minutes on a team with so many guys warranting them is a good problem to have, but it will become a problem nonetheless if the Lakers don’t get ready to cut a few guys out of the rotation soon, lest they risk not having enough playing time for their two best players.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that we trust,” Vogel acknowledged.
He’s going to have to figure out which ones he trusts most over the next month or two, and how to massage the egos of the odd men out. It won’t be an easy task, but every true title contender has to do it. The time for the Lakers to prove that’s definitively what they are, from coaching staff to roster, is fast approaching.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.