The basketball gods giveth, and the basketball gods taketh away.
No good result ever seems to come for these Lakers without some corresponding misfortune. A rousing win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night — a win that featured a 4th quarter comeback, a triumphant LeBron closeout with sideline celebrations from Aaron Donald, and an Austin Reaves dagger — cost the team Anthony Davis to the type of ankle inversion that looked gruesome on replay and after being helped off the court without putting any weight on his leg, and reportedly required crutches to help him walk at halftime.
Late Thursday evening we got the news we’ve been waiting for, and it’s not great. Davis has a sprained foot, and won’t be re-evaluated for another month. Welp.
If you’re looking for a silver lining in what comes next for these Lakers, it’s that they already have experience in playing without Davis. He has missed 20 games already this season, and had appeared in exactly 10 games since his return from the sprained MCL that sidelined him for over month. In that period of time, the Lakers learned a lot about what work and what doesn’t, and should be putting all their efforts into figuring out ways to do more of the former.
Part of that, however, is knowing that you actually do not have enough depth or talent in the front-court to carve out enough functional minutes where you avoid critical failures. If the team sticks with what they have, they’ll lose more than they’d like. If that sounds excessive or dramatic, that’s fine. But it doesn’t make it less true.
With DeAndre Jordan basically unplayable, Dwight Howard only useful on some nights due to his declining athleticism, and Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, and Stanley Johnson all (basically) 6’8 — and thus not viable “bigs” in most any lineup that doesn’t include LeBron James — the Lakers need another big man, and they need one now.
And not just any big man, but a big man who still has enough juice to run the floor, challenge some shots around the basket, and capably finish inside on lobs and/or the types of dump off passes that LeBron and Russell Westbrook create. While this sounds straightforward enough, it’s actually harder than it seems, because several teams are hoarding big men and there’s not many options left on the open market.
In saying that, here’s a couple of options that could help, even if they (obviously) won’t be able to fill the Davis-sized hole.
The former lottery pick found himself in a numbers crunch with the Mavs, and was released so they could keep Marquese Chriss, who’s range as a shooter proved more beneficial than WCS’ more roll-heavy game. Cauley-Stein is also someone who seemed to think of himself as more skilled offensively than what he actually is, undercutting his value by trying to diversify his offensive attack in ways that actually did not help his team.
If he were to join the Lakers, there’s no guarantee he changes his ways at all, bringing the same baggage he carried in Sacramento and Dallas to Los Angeles. That said, the Lakers need a run-and-jump big man, and WCS is probably the best one available. He can move his feet defensively, and can play above the rim on both ends. His motor comes and goes, but at least it starts in the first place. I’d certainly give him a shot, if not for the rest of the year, than on a 10-day contract after waiving someone (DeAndre Jordan).
As a third-year player who is already on his third NBA team after only playing a single college season, Brown is way more of a project big than someone you can trust to play real rotation minutes at this point. That said, he has the measurables (7’2” height, 7’3.5” wingspan, 9’3” standing reach) and enough physical tools to be a presence in the paint and someone who could potentially give you a shift of good energy and activity in the paint.
He’s not the most fluid athlete, and some of his movements do look genuinely awkward. So, if that, plus his inexperience turn you (or the Lakers) off, I’d get it. But in the pursuit of a live body whose asks will be small next to guys like LeBron, Russ, Monk, and THT who will make his job easier, he could be worth a flyer.
Wilson isn’t a center and, really, would be more of an Ariza alternative/insurance than someone who you’d ask to defend another team’s big man. That said, one the things the Lakers learned when AD missed time with his knee injury is that they’re better off playing smaller and faster than trying to shoehorn another traditional big onto the floor.
Wilson, then, could be another forward in the rotation who can play with pace and compete with a baseline level of activity by going to the glass and simply leveraging his youthful legs to defend with some spirit. He brings good size (6’10), has some pedigree as a former first-round pick, and has been on the fringes of the league this year after getting a 10-day contract with the Raptors earlier this season. If only signing one player, I’d prioritize a big over Wilson, but if the Lakers find that big elsewhere and end up with an additional open roster spot too, Wilson would be a guy I’d consider.
I know that Thompson will reportedly sign with the Chicago Bulls after getting his release from the Pacers. And, if that ends up happening, good for him. But, Thompson would also be a nice fit on these Lakers, both in the short term with AD out, and in the long term as a potential backup who can still really rebound the ball and be a finisher via dump offs and deep post-ups after after rolling via P&R’s.
Thompson isn’t an above the rim player, and there’s real questions how much juice he still has defensively, particularly in switches. But, as a guy with veteran know how and playoff experience, a history of playing with LeBron, and someone who is likely to get some extra motivation playing for a team with something at stake, there’s real potential there. If a potential major role with the Lakers while AD is out is enough to alter his decision to joining the Bulls, I’d welcome him on this roster.
I fully understand that none of the above names are particularly sexy and it’s not even entirely clear any of them would actually help the Lakers enough to justify signing them in the first place.
That said, we know that DeAndre Jordan doesn’t help the Lakers. Just as we know that Dwight Howard cannot be an every night player, that you cannot play the Ariza/Melo duo at as the lone front-court players without getting butchered defensively, and that LeBron can’t play 48 minutes each night. So with AD out at least a month, the Lakers need assistance in the form of a backup center, and they need it now.
These guys are be the best of a flawed pool of options. They may not be perfect, but as this season has taught the Lakers time and time again, perfection is not something this team can count on, anyway.