The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly set to work out both Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith this week. In terms of the team’s immediate needs and what skillset he brings to the table in a vacuum, Waiters is the clear choice, but this may not be quite that cut and dry.
In fact, given what signing Waiters might put at risk, the decision (if the front office has to make one) is still pretty clearly the soup-throwing shooting guard who attempted to score on his own basket in a finals game.
Let’s go over why.
In Waiters’ favor is the fact that L.A. desperately needs someone who can step in and provide some creativity when LeBron James sits. During those minutes this season, the Lakers’ offense has fallen off a cliff and thus, they have struggled to extend leads into blowout territory. This has led to longer minutes for James, and could be fixed with an upgrade from Rajon Rondo, but things just aren’t that simple.
As we’ve seen this season, Vogel seems hellbent on finding a role for Rondo even while the veteran point guard has pretty clearly entered the “retirement” phase of his career. If signing Waiters means fewer Rondo minutes, then cool, it’s the right move. But it feels just as likely Waiters might cut into Alex Caruso’s minutes, which would obviously be far from ideal.
What this essentially comes down to is which role Waiters signs up to fill, and how Vogel plans to use him. If he’s okay with being the 15th man a la Troy Daniels, then cool. There’s no risk there seeing as it’s altogether unlikely he ever really gets any minutes.
But if he’s anticipating regular playing time and Vogel sees him as someone who can help carry the offense while James is out, then we start getting into some nervous territory given whose minutes he might be cutting into.
It’s extremely unlikely that Waiters supplants Avery Bradley, the team’s nominal starting “point guard,” or at least starting point guard defender. And as we’ve talked about, it might take actual wild horses to drag Rondo from Vogel’s rotation. Quinn Cook already isn’t playing, so he doesn’t figure into this equation much (though I wish he would). So if Waiters is going to get consistent minutes, the only player left to lose some is Caruso. It’s just a simple math game at that point.
And that’s where we get to the crux of this issue: Anything that in any way risks the already at times inconsistent minutes Caruso gets is not a worthy endeavor. Yes, Waiters is probably the better player than Smith right now, but he’s also a combo guard/secondary ballhandler and would fill a role that brings Caruso’s minutes into question, whereas Smith would simply offer more shooting and a little more size at the two.
This is all before you get to the very real questions about how Waiters would handle not playing, something the player he’s replacing (Troy Daniels) took in stride for a chemistry-laden team that hasn’t had anyone grousing about their role.
Waiters started out the year by getting suspended for the Miami Heat’s opening game for “conduct detrimental to the team.” He responded to that suspension by taking shots at the team on Instagram, and was later given a 10-game suspension after having a panic attack following the ingestion of a “THC-infused edible” on the team plane.
Waiters apologized following that suspension, but was soon suspended a third time because he reportedly posted an Instagram photo of himself on a boat after telling Heat officials he could not practice or play because he was sick.
If this is how he acted when he was out of the rotation before, will he necessarily respond better as Laker? Maybe, but it’s no guarantee, and it’s no more of a guarantee that the Lakers would have a consistent role to slot him in to, or that they wouldn’t have to sacrifice things that have worked well for them to find minutes for Waiters.
Compare that to Smith, who likely would either assume Daniels’ former role or get spot minutes at shooting guard on nights where normal rotation guys don’t have it and that’s easily the safer direction Pelinka could go in with this open roster spot.
But if the Lakers do head down this path with Waiters, you can rest assured that James and Rob Pelinka sat down and figured out exactly where Waiters is mentally and psychologically. If they think he’s ready and humbled enough to accept his role (whatever it might be) in the same way Dwight Howard did, then we just have to trust them because of the good judgement they’ve shown while piecing this team and it’s incredible team dynamic together (The same goes for Smith here, too).
Neither Smith nor Waiters are going to answer any and all concerns here (hence their being available right now), but in Waiter’s case, he brings just as many question marks as he might be solving, and thus should probably remain deserted on his island.
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