The Lakers haven’t needed to have any of their games this season postponed yet as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s beginning to feel like more of a matter of “when” than “if.” 13 games have been postponed so far due to teams not having enough players, either due to positive tests or contact tracing protocols, and with the pandemic not going anywhere, it feels like the league isn’t done having to call off games yet.
One option the league is looking at to try and keep games going? Adding an extra player to rosters by allowing teams to sign a third two-way contract, a proposal that Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports is gaining traction:
Significant discussion on league's call with general managers today about expanding rosters by allowing a third two-way contract slot this season, sources tell ESPN. That'll have to be worked out with NBPA, but there's momentum toward it.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 15, 2021
As of right now, teams are limited to a pair of two-way contracts, which do not count against the salary cap — and thus the Lakers could add one if this change passes, because the hard cap they’re up against wouldn’t apply here — and allow players to go back and forth between the G League and NBA. This is somewhat moot in this case of the Lakers this season, because their affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, opted out of the G League bubble.
In previous years, two-way players have been limited to 45 days with their parent team, but this year the NBA changed the rules so that they can instead only be active for 50 games, but otherwise spend all their time with the parent team and not have their days there counted (as the Lakers pair of two-way players, Devontae Cacok and Kostas Antetokounmpo, have so far). They are also reportedly being paid a flat rate of $449,155, instead of having their pay based on how many days they’re with their NBA team.
Prior to the Lakers’ game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, head coach Frank Vogel was asked about Wojnarowski’s report, and while it was phrased to him by the reporter as an increase in days rather than in roster spots, his reasoning for why Cacok and Antetokounmpo haven’t been active very often — only Antetokounmpo has actually played in a game, and he’s only done so once — was still notable, as he said the Lakers are saving them for later in the season or if they need them to deal with injuries.
“That’s exactly what we’ve been doing. There’s a [50-game] limit on how many games they can be active,” Vogel said. “While we’re at full strength or close to full strength we’ve kept them inactive even if we’ve had one or two guys out.”
“On this last trip, there were some games where we could have activated those guys but chose not to because of that limit. I think the league is smart to look at that and just make those guys available as much as possible.”
But whether the league increases the amount of games such players can play or just allows teams to add a third one, the effect would mostly be the same: It would allow teams to not have to worry as much about saving their two-way guys for if they’re needed, and allow them to get a little bit more playing time (or at least time with a uniform on).
So if the NBA does eventually allow teams to add another two-way player, expect the Lakers to do so. Not just for insurance in case they have injuries, positive tests or contact tracing holdouts, but also to give the scouting department one more bite at the undrafted players apple in a year when they didn’t have South Bay as an outlet for those guys. But until then, it doesn’t sound like we should expect to see a ton of Cacok or Antetokounmpo.