When the Lakers swapped out JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard from their title team for Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell, it was a move that seemed like an upgrade in talent, but one that was never able to produce the same level of results on the court. Granted, a fair portion of the reason the Lakers didn’t have success wasn’t the fault of Gasol or Harrell, but instead all the circumstances around them, whether it was injuries or roster moves or the ever-changing rotation throughout the season as a result of each of the former two factors.
Still, fair or foul, the Lakers identified that as a weakness and addressed it in kind, bringing back Howard in place of Harrell, who was traded to the Wizards as part of the Russell Westbrook deal. With McGee signing in Phoenix this summer, the Lakers shifted to a different center of the same archetype, landing DeAndre Jordan after a buyout with the Detroit Pistons in a signing that was made official on Thursday.
The Lakers have officially signed DeAndre Jordan pic.twitter.com/5mJ6mmUgPl— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) September 9, 2021
Officially, Jordan did not replace Gasol — who is still technically on the roster — but after his own up-and-down season that was largely out of his control, the Lakers have put out all sorts of signals that they’ll move on from Gasol. In will step Jordan, who will help the Lakers return to the form on the court that helped them win a title.
In 2019-20, the Lakers controlled the front of the rim on both ends of the court, ranking second in frequency of attempts at the rim offensively and first in accuracy while ranking fifth opponent’s shooting percentage at the rim, all per Cleaning the Glass.
Last season, those numbers slipped as the Lakers ranked sixth in offensive frequency, seventh in offensive accuracy and 16th in defensive accuracy, all figures that were as impacted by Anthony Davis’ injury as they were the presence of Gasol and Harrell, two players not known as rim protectors.
But the Lakers built a title winning team by being bigger, faster and stronger than their opponents, and after a year in which they were none of those things, Jordan helps them re-secure that identity. Last season, he ranked in the 96th percentile among bigs in shooting percentage at the rim. Jordan has lost a step (or two) and is not the rim protector he once was, but still will allow the Lakers to play a style that earned them success in the past. A simplified role, even if it wasn’t all that complex in Brooklyn, should allow him the chance to flourish with what’s left in the tank as he enters his 14th season.
Fans will know the role Jordan — and Howard — will play this season as hard workers in the paint fighting for rebounds, throwing down alley-oops, dunking drop-off passes and, ultimately, finding a spot on the bench more often than not when winning time comes. Even when the Lakers used the formula to good effect in 2019-20, McGee and Howard were on the bench more often than not to close games and were less and less of a factor in the playoffs the deeper the Lakers went.
So for as much hand-wringing as there may be with the signing of Jordan and the seemingly inevitable departure of Gasol his arrival signals, neither player is the best center on the Lakers, a title afforded to Davis. If he is as open to playing more center like he reportedly told Westbrook, it’ll cut even deeper into the playing time of the other centers on the Lakers roster, whoever they may be.
But Jordan gives them a level of familiarity with a system that worked in the very recent past and, regardless of his talent level or who he might be replacing, it’s hard to fault the Lakers for going back to what worked as they look to maximize their chances with their title window still open.