The Los Angeles Lakers have mainly been linked to centers on the buyout market so far, from their ultimately ill-fated interest in Blake Griffin to the whispers they’re mostly focusing on players like JaVale McGee, Hassan Whiteside, Andre Drummond and even potentially DeMarcus Cousins.
That makes a report that they’re focused on adding a center somewhat unsurprising, but still notable for a few reasons. For one, in case the fact that the Lakers just officially re-signed Damian Jones on a second 10-day contract instead of guaranteeing him for the rest of the season wasn’t enough of a sign they don’t see him as the full-time answer yet, this report would seem to indicate that.
Additionally, the reason that Sam Amick of The Athletic says the Lakers are still searching for one more more center appears to be an eyebrow-raising confirmation that the team is less than satisfied with Marc Gasol so far (emphasis mine):
What are the best fits for Aldridge around the league?
Amick: My early focus here has been on the Lakers. Sources say they’re in the market for another big, in large part because the Marc Gasol experience hasn’t gone as well as hoped. And when you’re a reigning champion who sees all these other squads looking capable of stealing your crown, it’s never a bad idea to load up on options. But, first, we have to wait to see if this is going to be a trade or a buyout.
Now, what this doesn’t mean is that the Lakers are going to cut Marc Gasol or anything, and it’s not necessarily an indication that whoever they’re going to bring in will supplant him in the rotation. That said, this is the first leak that the team has seen his play as disappointing, so it is a sign that his spot as a starter might be more up for grabs than previously thought.
All that said, this doesn’t mean Aldridge is the answer here. Incredibly, the Lakers right now are exactly as good — outscoring opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions — when Gasol sits as they are when he plays, an incredible and improbable net rating quirk.
But while different roster contexts have to be taken into account and this isn’t a one-to-one comparison, it’s still worth noting that the Spurs are 8.1 points per 100 possessions better when Aldridge is on the bench than they are when he plays, and have been made worse both offensively and defensively by his presence. The latter fact isn’t too surprising for those who have watched him play this season:
For those who want more info on LMA’s defense: https://t.co/sJhVxsN5NG— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) March 11, 2021
Or, to summarize it more plainly, here is actual video of my reaction when looking up these numbers for the first time:
Aldridge might be better on a contender and playing alongside LeBron James, and hilariously had his highest scoring game of the season in his only game against the Lakers this year — a 28-point, 5-rebound performance in a 118-109 Spurs win — but anyone rooting for the purple and gold should probably hope that the front office’s evaluation process goes beyond that one game. But with Aldridge leaving the Spurs, they won’t have anything beyond the games he’s already played and whatever intel they’ve been able to gather through back channels to grade him on.
The trade deadline is coming up two weeks from today (March 25) and the buyout market will likely kick into full swing after that. Gasol’s play over that time period — and if he can build on a few of his stronger performances from before he was lost to the health and safety protocols whenever he returns — as well as who becomes available to potentially compete for a rotation spot with him will be worth monitoring over the days and weeks to come in the wake of this report.