The Los Angeles Lakers have been dealing with a variety of injuries all season, but at this point, the only two players that have been missing the whole time are Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza. And according to Frank Vogel, those absences have been enough to keep this team from seeing what they can truly be.
“Not having Trevor and Kendrick has not enabled us to see the way we’re really going to look like when those guys are available,” Vogel said at the Lakers’ shootaround, hours before their triple overtime collapse against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.
“Not having Talen for a large part of the season also,” Vogel continued. “Then obviously having LeBron be out of the lineup, and AD, and the disjointed nature of that, we haven’t really been able to see what the vision of this roster is going to look like. We’ve seen some of it because of who we’ve had in, but that’s still to be determined.”
Nunn — the team’s fifth-highest paid player, and one of only five Lakers not making the veteran’s minimum — has been out since near the end of the preseason with what the team has only called a “bone bruise.” He was originally slated to be reevaluated on Nov. 11, but the team has provided no updates on him other than Vogel continuing to state that he’s still “a ways away,” at one point adding that the training staff had determined “that to be safe, given the area in the knee that it was, that he needed to be off it for some time.”
Given that semi-distressing-yet-intentionally-unspecific update and the fact that Nunn has missed his original reevaluation date by several weeks with no additional info even leaking, it’s safe to assume at this point that it may still be quite a while before we see him on the floor, if we do at all.
Ariza — who, unlike Nunn, is making the veteran’s minimum, but was projected as as a preseason starter — has been out recovering from foot surgery that he underwent after feeling significant discomfort in the team’s first practice of training camp. Like Vogel does with every injured player, he has continued to state that Ariza is “still a ways away,” although in brighter news than Nunn, Ariza had right ankle surgery on Oct. 7, which would put his original eight-week reevaluation date on Dec. 2, meaning there is still time for some good news on his status.
And it sounds like that’s what the Lakers are hoping for, because when Vogel was pressed on if Nunn and Ariza were really important enough to keep this team from seeing the true vision of what it can be, he only somewhat sidestepped the question, and still seemed to imply that the answer was in the affirmative.
“They’re going to have the opportunity. And obviously you can’t make any true evaluations until you’ve seen what they look like with our group,” Vogel said. “We signed them to be contributors. And when they get healthy, they’re going to get the opportunity to.”
When (and, at this point, if) they’ll get healthy enough to do so, however, is still an open question, as is if those two are really going to be good enough to help the Lakers look much better than the mostly disappointing, 10-11 mess they’ve been so far. Those two — especially Ariza — would help this team embrace the small-ball identity the roster was built for, but it’s also not like the team doesn’t have other options on that front.
And let’s be real: With all due respect, if 36-year-old Trevor Ariza, who has not played in more than 60 games in two seasons, was the difference between this team living up to its title-hopeful potential or not, then this was a pretty shoddily built operation.
Still, given recent rumors of his hot seat status, it’s hard to blame Vogel for coming up with reasons not to pass judgement on this team, but it’s also fair to ask if Nunn and Ariza should really be this critical, and how much of a positive difference they can really make. Having those two would help, sure, but they shouldn’t be this important for a team with title aspirations.