Joel Ayayi joined the Lakers with about as much hype as an undrafted rookie can accrue. The Gonzaga product was ranked by ESPN as the third-best undrafted prospect following the conclusion of the 2021 NBA Draft, just behind his fellow two-way contract addition Austin Reaves.
But just as Reaves’ story showed the possible upside of a player betting on themselves, Ayayi’s demonstrates the potential pitfalls. Just like Reaves, Ayayi turned down the chance to get drafted with a second-round pick, but unlike Reaves — who parlayed a strong summer into a promotion from two-way player to guaranteed contract — Ayayi is now on the outside looking in at the NBA.
Rather than being a second-round pick with some theoretical leverage to survive training camp cuts, Ayayi was waived by the Lakers on Friday as they trimmed down their roster in preparation for the regular season, freeing up a two-way contract in the process.
After practice on Friday, Vogel said the Lakers would wait and see who else became available in camp cuts before deciding what to do with the two-way contract involuntarily vacated by Ayayi, but he also said the team was hoping to keep the rookie around, even if his original deal is gone.
“We’re going to give it some time (before signing someone),” Vogel said. “We’re going to evaluate what’s out there, we’re not moving on it today and we’re hopeful that Joel rejoins us with SBL (the South Bay Lakers) if he clears waivers, the same with those other guys.”
The Lakers already added one camp cut in Sekou Doumbouya earlier this week with the two-way contract freed up by Reaves’ promotion to the regular roster, but the team won’t rush to fill the second one.
“We’re really just looking for the best player. Ideal situation would be a big and a small, but we want to get the best players that we can, guys that can fill in and help us if we have injuries,” Vogel said.
The team surely originally hoped that would be a role Ayayi could fill, but after a disappointing showing in summer league and the preseason — and, likely, in training camp — his future is far more murky.
Such is life for players on the fringes of the NBA. For as many fun stories like Reaves, there are far more that go the way of Ayayi’s. Neither players’ career is over by any means, but despite his pre-draft pedigree, Ayayi is certainly going to have to scrap a lot harder for his next opportunity following this one. The Lakers hope it will be in South Bay, under the watchful eye of their front office and player development staff, but only time will tell.