With the return of Stanley Johnson this week, the Los Angeles Lakers have 14 players on their roster averaging over 15 minutes per game. Only one of them (Kent Bazemore) is currently out of the rotation, and one other (Anthony Davis) is sidelined with an injury, leaving 12 players that fit the above qualifier that are playing, as of right now.
DeAndre Jordan, a former starter who is currently out of the rotation, does not even fit the criteria above (13.4 mpg), but Kendrick Nunn — who the team is planning to play a lot — is “getting closer” to a return, which means that the team is going to be facing a very, very crowded roster, full of guys expecting to play, very, very soon.
There are 240 minutes available to players in any single regulation basketball game. So while injuries and illness-related absences have in part led to just how many guys have played a real role for the Lakers, there is just no mathematical way the team can play this many guys so many minutes moving forward. As they get healthier, a few players are going to get squeezed, a reality that head coach Frank Vogel acknowledged at practice on Thursday.
“Some guys are not going to play every night,” Vogel said. “We’re going to have guys that won’t be in the rotation that night, or for that stretch of games. Our guys all understand that. There’s definitely going to be some integration minutes — with Trevor (Ariza) that you’re seeing right now, and with Kendrick (Nunn) when he comes back — to make sure they learn their teammates, learn our system and show us what they can do.
“Obviously you can’t play everybody, but everybody has bought into the sacrifice necessary to accomplish our goals this year.”
One of the guys most recently squeezed as the team has went increasingly small is Dwight Howard. He has only played in four of the team’s last eight games since returning from health and safety protocols, and he’s trying to have the right attitude about sacrificing so the Lakers can win.
“For me it’s just understanding what we’re playing for,” Howard said. “Sometimes we can get tunnel vision, where we don’t see everything that’s going on, so for me it’s understanding that it’s a long season and that anything can happen. It’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s a journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“There’s moments where I’ve played a lot of minutes, and there’s moments where I haven’t played at all. But it’s really just being ready and understanding that we’re trying to win a championship,” Howard continued. “I want a parade. So if I have to play 10 minutes, three minutes, however long I play, it’s just going out there and playing as hard as I can for those minutes and making an impact in any way I can.”
And players on the fringes of the rotation like Howard are going to need that attitude to thrive on this team, because Vogel says that he doesn’t envision having a regular rotation for as long as the Lakers are still getting healthier and trying to evaluate their entire roster.
“I don’t think it’s really going to be consistent as we’re working those guys back in. Obviously you feel out your team’s immediate success, and if you’re winning games you try not to touch it, but when you’ve got to work guys in you’ve got to make some adjustments,” Vogel said. “That’s just something that we’ll evaluate throughout the course of the year.”
So with Ariza working his way in, and Nunn and Davis still a few weeks away from their own returns before being expected to slide (back) into large roles, no one inside or outside the team should expect the rotation to look consistent for at least a little while longer.
Vogel, as the team’s recent complete recommitment to the LeBron-at-center lineups shows, is still very much evaluating what he has. Until he and the organization decide that — and get past the trade and buyout deadlines, when this team will surely add and subtract even more pieces — no one should be anticipating consistency in how this team looks on a night-to-night basis. So as matchups, injuries and returns continue to change things, they’re going to keep experimenting.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.