Following several days of speculation over who they would add, the Los Angeles Lakers filled their final roster spot with the addition of Dion Waiters on Thursday, giving themselves some extra depth as they head towards the playoffs.
Shams Charania of The Athletic was the first to report the news, and he offered some additional details on the signing in a video appearance on Stadium afterwards (emphasis mine):
“In Dion Waiters, the Lakers are adding the playmaker and scorer that they have coveted this season coming off the bench. Waiters, his agent Rich Paul, the Lakers’ officials Rob Pelinka, Kurt Rambis, they all had positive conversations throughout the week from his workout and his meeting with the organization on Monday, and they all understood this must work out for Waiters, otherwise the Lakers reserve the option to release him, I’m told. This could be Waiters’ final opportunity here, and this is a great one for him to establish himself back with a contending, winning franchise.”
This is clearly a point of emphasis for Charania, because it’s something he made sure to note on Twitter as well. But while yes, technically the Lakers can release Waiters at any time, that is theoretically true of any player on their roster. As with those other players, however, the Lakers would have to pay Waiters his full salary were they to cut him, as NBA salary cap maven Jeff Siegel noted, because all NBA salaries are fully guaranteed after Jan. 10.
Clearly Charania is being told this by someone, though, and maybe the Lakers are willing to do that. It’s not like Waiters’ prorated minimum of $375,385 is all that much money to them in the grand scheme of things. That reality made Charania’s next point in the video all the more interesting:
“The Lakers are still holding out the option of potentially adding a shooter down the line. They worked out J.R. Smith as well on Monday.”
Here is the video if you want to watch his full remarks for context:
"This could be Waiters' final opportunity here."— Stadium (@Stadium) March 6, 2020
NBA Insider @ShamsCharania reports on the Lakers' agreement to sign Dion Waiters. pic.twitter.com/MAKUoLb4Yl
Update: Charania essentially confirmed that the Lakers still may cut someone for a shooter in his “Inside Pass” column on The Athletic:
After reaching an agreement to sign Dion Waiters, the Lakers continue to monitor the market for a shooter, such as J.R. Smith, sources say. Smith worked out for the Lakers on Monday, according to sources. L.A. would need to release someone to create roster space for Smith.
Original story continues below.
Why this is worth paying attention to is that there are a couple ways to read this. The simplest is that — guaranteed money or no — the Lakers are willing to cut Waiters if he’s a problem, and would look to add a shooter if they did so.
But while that’s entirely possible, the somewhat nebulous way this report was worded means that we can’t take the idea of Waiters being expendable as mutually exclusive with the idea that the Lakers might actually be looking to add another shooter regardless of if they cut him or not. Maybe even someone like Smith, who reportedly left a good impression in his workout. If they wanted to do that, however, the Lakers would have to cut someone on their roster, as it’s currently at the maximum of 15 players after Waiters’ addition.
One of the reasons that seems unlikely is how the Lakers approached the Troy Daniels situation. The Lakers cut Daniels on the last day he could be waived and still be playoff-eligible — days before they had fully decided to go with Waiters, Smith or another player — because they wanted to make sure he would have a chance to join another contender for the stretch run (he ultimately signed with the Denver Nuggets).
Would they cut another player at the end of the bench now, after that deadline has passed? For a player they didn’t think was as good as Dion Waiters, who has played in three games this year? It seems unlikely, but is theoretically possible if they felt like their need for another shooter was bad enough.
The only problem is, most of the players the Lakers would potentially cut are also shooters. Quinn Cook is a smaller shooter, but a shooter nonetheless. And while he doesn’t play every game, he’s close with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and by virtue of his deal extending into next season has some value as an expiring contract to package in a trade this summer.
Jared Dudley has some positional overlap as a backup four with Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris, but he’s been a huge part of the Lakers’ chemistry and has shot 47.1% from three, so it would be a shock to see them part with him.
Talen Horton-Tucker isn’t a shooter and has only played five total minutes this season, but the Lakers probably wouldn’t cut a rookie that has shown some promise in the G League. Much less one that is — like his Lakers teammates Waiters, James, Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — represented by Rich Paul and Klutch Sports.
So yeah, I don’t really know what to make of this. We’ll probably just have to wait and see how things progress, but be aware that it’s at least possible that Pelinka and Rambis aren’t done making moves. Whether they follow a cut of Waiters, or someone else. Whatever the Lakers do, though, they should probably do it soon, as with just 22 games until the playoffs, they need all the time to gel as a completed team that they can get.
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