On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Los Angeles Lakers will finally have the ability to fill out their 15th roster spot using the prorated veteran’s minimum exception, and according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Monday, the front office is already “poking around” to see which players could hit the buyout market.
Going into the season, the general expectation was that the Lakers would use that roster spot to get some help on the wing because, technically speaking, LeBron James is the only true small forward on the roster, or at the center position, where they lack size outside of Marc Gasol.
However, in light of the news that Anthony Davis will miss at least the next 2-3 weeks — and possibly through the All-Star break — due to a calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the possibility of them signing a buffer of sorts for Davis has arisen.
The question is: Do they really need to?
The short answer is “probably not.” Assuming Davis sits out through the All-Star break, he’ll only have missed nine games, and of those nine games, only four of them will be against teams that are currently in the playoff picture. Even in a worst-case scenario where the Lakers lose the next eight games that Davis is absent for, they’d still be in the playoff picture.
Additionally, the Lakers have good depth behind Davis at the power forward position with Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris and Jared Dudley. Obviously Kuzma, Morris and Dudley don’t offer the same level of production as Davis — particularly on the defensive end — but with how talented the rest of the roster is, they really don’t need to. After all, they have gone 5-1 in the games Davis hasn’t played so far this season.
But let’s just say for the sake of argument that the Lakers are in the market for a temporary Davis replacement in spite of all of those things. What do their options look like? The truth is we don’t know.
Due to the compacted, 72-game season and the addition of the play-in tournament, there are about 14 teams in the Western Conference that are still vying for a playoff spot and the same is true in the Eastern Conference. So, while it’s unlikely that the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Washington Wizards or Detroit Pistons actually make the playoffs, it’s too soon to call them sellers.
There are a few names that have recently popped up in the rumor mill, though, and Blake Griffin is chief among them.
On Monday, Wojnarowski reported that the Detroit Pistons are working with Griffin and his agent to find the six-time All-Star a role on a contending team. While the Pistons would undoubtedly prefer a trade involving Griffin, who has a $38.9 million player option for the 2021-22 season, a buyout is reportedly a possibility.
Should Griffin become a free agent, the Lakers would be hard pressed to find a better temporary Davis replacement on the open market than him. Griffin’s production has fallen off of a cliff over the past two years, but he could see a resurgence in Los Angeles like Dwight Howard did last season. From the Lakers’ perspective, Griffin shouldn’t be a hard sell. Whether or not the feeling is mutual depends on what Griffin values at this stage of his career.
If Griffin wants to live in Los Angeles, where he spent the first nine years of his career and recently bought another home, and compete for a championship, he has two options: The team that held an emotional mock jersey retirement ceremony for him only to trade him six months later, or the Lakers. Call me crazy, but I think the Lakers would probably have a slight edge in that scenario.
If Griffin valued playing time above all else, though, the Lakers probably wouldn’t be his first option. Even if the Lakers tried to free up playing time by trading Markieff Morris, who’s been unhappy with the playing time he’s gotten this season, their situation wouldn’t be much different than it is now, or at least it wouldn’t be when Davis returned. Meanwhile, teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers could reasonably offer Griffin a starting job.
Stranger things have happened, though, but it’s hard to imagine Griffin in a Lakers uniform for all of those reasons — and if Griffin isn’t a realistic option, then the Lakers really shouldn’t waste their time and resources looking for someone to fill Davis’ void in the interim. Davis will be back eventually, and if he plays at the level he did last season — when he was healthy — upon his return, then a Davis “replacement” is the last thing anyone will be thinking about.