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Can Christian Wood crack the Lakers’ ‘circle of trust?’

With the Lakers, Christian Wood has his best opportunity yet to prove he can impact winning.

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2023-24 Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every weekday, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Christian Wood.

While portraying a hypervigilant father in Meet the Parents warning his soon-to-be son-in-law, Robert De Niro once said, “with the knowledge you have been given, you are now in the Burns family circle of trust.” Echoing that metaphor throughout the film and its first sequel, De Niro laid out his expectations for Ben Stiller’s character, and the consequences that would come if he failed to uphold his end of the bargain.

With that trust comes an expectation it won’t be violated. Although De Niro’s Mr. Burns proved willing to hand out second chances for the sake of his daughter, the Lakers need not be quite as forgiving with Christian Wood. While the team has welcomed him into their “circle,” they hold all of the leverage to give him the boot if he can’t figure out a way to fit into their team concept.

What is his best-case scenario?

At the culmination of the summer-long courtship underscored by daily calls from Darvin Ham and near-daily ones from Rob Pelinka to his agent, Christian Wood finally agreed to become a Laker. Coming off of a disappointing season with the Mavs, Wood ended up agreeing to a two-year contract with the Lakers for the veteran’s minimum with a player option in the second year. This mutually beneficial deal allows the Lakers to get a highly talented frontcourt player on the cheap, while giving Wood a chance to ball out and then opt out for a major payday next offseason if all goes well.

Assuming Wood does end up landing the long-term financial security next offseason he presumably desires, it will be because of his contribution to a contending Lakers squad.

On paper, he’s an excellent offensive fit next to Anthony Davis, a player so malleable on defense that he can theoretically hide Wood’s deficiencies while allowing him to lean into his discrete strengths. Wood is a certified knock-down outside threat in addition to providing some off-the-bounce juice as both a slasher and intermediary playmaker.

Considering the Lakers starters’ collective lack of shooting, Wood may be able to breathe some fresh air into a group that has at times had trouble scoring consistently in the half-court.

Defensively, Wood lacks the girth to bang with real bruisers, or the footspeed to slide with scoring wings. However, he has some ability to block shots in addition to being an excellent rebounder — skills that will help the Lakers, especially if AD can take the assignment Wood is least equipped to handle.

While this dynamic might be best effectuated through crossmatching, switching, or some combination of the two, it doesn’t seem out of the question for the Lakers to find some way of making better use of Wood’s physical gifts on defense than his previous employers.

That is especially likely if the Lakers can get Wood to buy into a winning culture that has been absent at those prior stops. Perhaps some of his physical shortcomings can be overcome with some enhanced effort. If Wood becomes the two-way stud he surely thinks he can be, the Lakers will have a hard time keeping him out of the starting and closing lineups as they sport one of the most talented rotations in the NBA.

What is his worst-case scenario?

While there are good reasons to believe that Christian Wood might be the best vet min signing of the offseason, there is also the reality to contend with that he was available for the absolute least amount of money any team could possibly pay him. Wood hinted at those lesser outcomes when he announced that this would be “one of my most motivated seasons.” Hidden beneath this positive affirmation is the implication that there have been seasons where Wood was less motivated.

This kind of comment presents a stark contrast with the kind we’ve gotten from LeBron about his New Year’s resolutions over the past decade-plus. A bastion of professionalism and consistency, LeBron has often decried the utility of a personal resolution, suggesting a confidence in not messing with an approach that isn’t broken. In 2010, LeBron said, “I’ll set goals for the year, but I’m not a resolutions guy...My New Year’s resolution would be the same as going into every NBA season...” Instead of repeating the approach that’s led to inconsistent results, Wood is promising better — an outlook that has to leave you hopeful, yet simultaneously realistic given the statement’s negative implications.

If Wood fails to summon the resolve he’s promised, or his newfound excitement doesn’t translate to more consistent defensive intensity, he probably won’t be able to retain consistent double-digit minutes in the Lakers’ rotation. If his team spirit wanes with his minutes, Wood could become an unwelcome presence in the Lakers’ locker room — something the Lakers would certainly want to avoid given the good vibes of the offseason.

Even if the relationship between the Lakers and Wood sours, however unlikely that may be under Darvin Ham’s magnanimous leadership, the Lakers can simply continue on without him. While missing out on an opportunity to showcase himself as a winner would be bad for his market, the Lakers won’t likely yield their contender status if they whiff on Wood.

What is his most likely role on the team?

Probably, Wood will start the season with the “major” role the Lakers brass has already confirmed that he will have. Though the team hasn’t confirmed exactly what that will look like, it would make sense for Wood to be one of the first subs off the bench, earning about 18-22 minutes per contest to open the campaign.

From there, those minutes may fluctuate pending on his play, but the door is open for Wood to solidify his position as a fixture in the Lakers’ rotation, locker room, and “circle of trust.” If he does, he will enter the offseason with a chance to profit handsomely off of his proven contribution to a winner (a la Bruce Brown). And if the Lakers lose Christian Wood next offseason as the tax for raising banner No. 18, they should be just fine with that.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.

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