Earlier this week, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka made it clear that the team will mostly be focused on staying healthy when they get to Disney World and begin playing their seeding games as the NBA resumes the 2019-20 season. According to Frank Vogel, the team’s head coach, part of that process will involve playing all 17 players they plan to bring with them to Orlando.
“I would think that we’re gonna use everyone. Obviously we’re taking it on a game-by-game basis,” Vogel said on a Friday Zoom call with the media. “The goal of these seeding games is to get us going into the playoffs, and just like it would be in the normal last eight games of a regular season, to get us going to the playoffs as healthy and as sharp as we can be.”
Vogel says the Lakers will evaluate that balance every day, weighing how sharp their normal contributors look vs. making sure that in a quick restart that may leave players more prone to injury or illness, that they’re making sure everyone on their team — including their pair of two-way contract players, Devontae Cacok and Kostas Antetokounmpo — are ready to go if called upon.
“Part of guys like Kostas and Devontae being a part of this camp and practices, and getting opportunities in those games is, just from a coaching standpoint, to sharpen all your assets. You never know who you’re going to need,” Vogel said. “If you take those guys over there without an opportunity, you may end up needing to call their number at some point and they may not be as ready as you want them to be.”
Vogel added that Cacok and Antetokounmpo “had a lot of success in the G League” and that he would “like to see what they can do at this level,” and they aren’t the only ones. The team also signed Dion Waiters right before the season shut down — he never actually got in a game for L.A. before the season was suspended — and have now added J.R. Smith right before they resume.
Vogel is eager to see how both fit into what the Lakers do during the team’s training camp and seeding games in Orlando.
“Obviously I know their games very well from having competed against them over the years, but for those two guys, just having an opportunity to see what they look like in our system is something I’m interested in,” Vogel said, adding that he’s hopeful to get a few more opportunities for another of his deep bench guards as well.
“As crazy of a year as it was, Quinn Cook had a handful of opportunities, but he started the preseason injured. I probably would like to see more opportunities for him to see what he can do. I mean, I know what he can do, but the more of a body of work that we have, the better.”
Vogel did not specifically mention Talen Horton-Tucker and was not asked about him, but he told me earlier this season that getting the Lakers’ other intriguing rookie (besides Cacok) some playing time was something the team would look at when they locked in seeding. Given that the Lakers have mostly done that — and that dropping to the second seed doesn’t really matter anymore, anyway, given that they’re playing at a neutral site — it’s probably fair to guess that the cult-favorite, first-year guard may get at least a little burn.
“We’ll be hopeful to get everybody some run in those games,” Vogel said. “At the same time we’re going to make sure we’re as sharp as possible going into the playoffs as well.”
It will be a delicate balance to strike, but that’s just one more unique variable of this unprecedented restart for Vogel. And if how well he’s handled the rest of his first year as head coach of the Lakers is any indication, he’ll be up to the challenge.