There haven’t been many bright spots in the Lakers’ 0-2 start to the season. The opening loss against the Warriors ended close at 121-114, but this was a game where the Lakers led for most of the time only to let the Warriors quickly swing the lead in their favor in the early part of the fourth quarter. And as for last night’s 115-105 loss against the Suns, I don’t think you could find a final result less telling of how it went for a team than summing everything up as a mere “10-point loss for the Lakers.”
However, one breath of fresh air has come in the form of a familiar face, as it seems that Avery Bradley will be a substantial player in Frank Vogel’s rotation moving forward.
It was said before the 2021 offseason started (with similar ideas being stated back in 2019), that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would collaborate with Rob Pelinka on roster decisions. That’s not really isn’t surprising. but we appreciate the transparency from Pelinka and the others. But it appears that this collaboration between the three even steered them towards Avery Bradley momentarily in the 2021 offseason, long before the team claimed him off waivers last week, although a deal couldn’t get worked out at the time.
“This summer when we knew he could probably be bought out by Houston, we talked to him a little bit and it didn’t work out,” Anthony Davis said about Avery Bradley following Thursday’s practice. “Then we had another opportunity and we were able to get him the third time around. We definitely want him here. What he can do to us defensively and offensively is something that we need.”
Those conversations would have almost certainly ended in a fully guaranteed deal between Bradley and the Lakers, however, he has now ended up with the team on a partially guaranteed deal that was inherited by claiming him off the waivers after the Warriors let him go on the same contract. The Lakers have until Jan 7. to decide whether or not they want to guarantee his contract for the rest of the season, a release that seemed like all but a certainty until the final frame of the season opener, when Bradley was one of the few bright spots for the team in that loss.
“I think it’s something that we have to look at,” Anthony Davis said about keeping Bradley all season. “We have a lot of guys down so we definitely need him for sure right now. Wayne is out, K Nunn is out, Talo is out, our wings are down, and so we’ve got to make sure that we fill those spots, and he can do that. If he comes in playing like he did then that’s it (laughs).”
As Davis alluded to, Bradley’s playing time may be reduced once Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, and Talen Horton-Tucker return, but also, it might not. We’ve all heard about how much patience needs to be had with these new Lakers — a roster that features only three returning players from last season, and just six from the regular season version of the 2020 championship team from a year ago — and Bradley is already familiar with this team’s base system. It seems Frank Vogel has already realized this, as he played Bradley 20 minutes in the team’s second game against the Suns, and made him one of their first substitutions.
“We’re short on perimeter defenders even when we’re whole: guys that that’s their specialty,” Frank Vogel explained after Thursday’s practice regarding Bradley and the rotation. “He definitely brings something that we need. Obviously, he’s a two-way player. He knocked down a couple of threes the other night and we’re really excited we picked him up.”
Bradley did come in and score 6 points quickly in only 8 minutes played on Tuesday against the Warriors, however, he was basically a no-show on Friday against the Suns. He had the worst plus/minus on the team Friday at -25, sitting on the bench while Austin Reaves joined the team in the fourth quarter in their comeback that fell short. Bradley put up zeroes across the board, going 0/3 from the field, with only one stat having anything other than a goose egg (sadly that stat was his 2 fouls).
Still, the Lakers could have some tough decisions to make once Jan. 7 nears, and it’s hard to speculate on where Bradley will end up in the rotation given all the injuries currently on the roster. Ellington should return soon, while Nunn will be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks, and if they impress then Bradley may be out of the rotation shortly, and we won’t think twice about him getting waived in January to save a final open roster spot for the buyout market.
Once that time comes, the Lakers could acquire an even more capable defender, or at least a bigger one, as the team could use a little more size in a defender than what Bradley provides.
And if Bradley continues to play like he did Friday and the new Lakers get more acclimated to their teammates and Vogel’s systems, this may also bump Bradley out of the rotation. But for now — given his familiarity with Vogel, LeBron, and Davis combined with his point-of-attack defense — expect Bradley to continue to play a substantial amount of minutes, at least until the team gets a little healthier.