At nearly the halfway point of the NBA preseason (wait seriously? There’s EIGHT preseason games? This is violence), it’s time to start talking about roster cuts.
Needless to say, the outlook coming into the preseason has drastically changed compared to the current outlook. Most notably, Nick Young, long thought to be sent away via the stretch provision, now appears to be a near lock to make the roster.
Meanwhile, Yi Jianlian, one of the Lakers’ more interesting signings of the summer, has seen limited action and has been unimpressive in his time on the court.
Before we dive too deep into talk about who does and doesn’t make the Lakers’ roster, lets look at who the locks are at this point, barring a trade.
PG – Russell/Clarkson/Calderon
SG – Williams/Swaggy
SF – Deng/Ingram
PF – Randle/Nance
C – Mozgov/Black/Zubac
That is 12 players, leaving four vacancies for the remaining. And yes, that does include Nick Young. While his off-court issues are well-documented, by all accounts, Young and Russell have put the issue in the past. On the court, Young’s play has warranted remaining on the roster.
Thus, that leaves three spots for eight players: Anthony Brown, Thomas Robinson, Julian Jacobs, Travis Wear, Yi Jianlian, Marcelo Huertas and Metta World Peace, Zach Auguste.
The least likely person to be cut on this list, and one I nearly considered a lock to make the roster, is Anthony Brown. Brown needed to prove he could knock down open shots to warrant a spot on the team and he did so in the first game of the preseason, hitting all four of his shots and both of his threes in just seven minutes of action.
While he regressed to last season’s form in his only other appearance, going 1-for-5 in 17 minutes of action against Denver on Friday, he’d have to miss every shot the rest of the preseason to be cut.
So, essentially, we’re down to two spots for six players. Let’s dive into each player and weigh the possibility.
Thomas Robinson – Perhaps no player has been more of a surprise in the preseason than Robinson. Signed late in the off-season on a training camp invite, Robinson has been great for the Lakers. His activity on offense and defense has been hard to miss.
His biggest problem is that the front court is loaded. Right now, there are five players considered “locks” that are either power forwards or centers, and that’s not even including Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram who will likely see time at the four this year.
Julian Jacobs/Travis Wear – I included these two in one because neither have done anything to warrant keeping. Both were essentially extra bodies in camp and both had massive uphill climbs to remain on the team. The likely outcome for both is that they are cut and sign with the D-Fenders or another D-League team.
Zach Auguste – I’ll be honest, in my first draft of this piece, I forgot about Auguste, and apparently so has Luke Walton. Admittedly, I jumped on the bandwagon from day one with Auguste. Paired with Larry Nance in the summer, the duo looked formidable, albeit against Summer League competition, and Auguste looked like the leader in the clubhouse to take one of the few remaining roster spots.
However, Auguste hasn’t found the court yet in three preseason games. While there’s still over half the preseason remaining (again, really?!), it’s not a great sign that Auguste hasn’t played a single minute.
The likely road was always for Auguste to play on the D-Fenders and be one of the first call-ups after an injury or trade, but the path to that destination has certainly been an unexpected one so far this preseason.
Yi Jianlian – Jianlian came in with much fanfare after what was considered a good summer with the Chinese National Team in the Olympics. His unique contract structure accounts for $8 million in cap space, but is non-guaranteed, giving the team lots of wiggle room for a potential trade.
However, his contract is about the only thing he has going for him at this point. In three games, Yi’s best quality that he’s brought to the Lakers is that he’s made for some great nicknames on Twitter (Yi-zus being the current leader). He has three points one 1-for-7 shooting, is 0-for-2 from three and has six rebounds.
While many consider him a lock to make the roster, count me out on Yi right now. If the reasoning for keeping him is his contract and you’re cutting an arguably better player to keep a guy who may or may not be traded or cut later in the season, then I just don’t get it. Especially when you have a player like Thomas Robinson who is younger and has shown more talent thus far in the preseason.
Marcelo Huertas – After playing his way into the hearts of Laker fans last season, The Catalyst might be in too deep. Huertas was a fun-to-watch player that was a serviceable back-up point guard last year.
However, the arrival of Luke Walton signaled a more open, free-flowing offense with more threes, something working very much against Huertas. Add in the fact that Jose Calderon is a near perfect fit for the offense and Huertas days are numbered.
Do I think Huertas could still be a backup NBA point guard? Absolutely. But I don’t see a situation where the Lakers enter the season with four point guards (counting Clarkson as one here) on the roster.
Metta World Peace – Much to the….dismay of Laker fans, MWP was brought back on a training camp invite this preseason. While I liked the move from a leadership standpoint, the fact it was a training camp invite might have signaled the Lakers intentions.
Even then, there is value to having a player like MWP on the roster. It’s clear at this point that players love him. He’s taken someone like Julius Randle under his wing and would be another fantastic mentor to Brandon Ingram.
While many fans aren’t crazy about keeping a 36-year old, past-his-prime small forward on the roster, I don’t think the other options available at the wing are that great. I also fully believe that you can not simply build a roster with 15 young players (or even 11-13 like with this year’s team) without having some veteran leaders.
And trust me, you can do a lot worse than Deng, Calderon and MWP as mentors for the young perimeter players going forward.
In the end, the final two spots are likely going to come down to MWP, Huertas, Robinson and Yi. In my opinion, through at least three games, the choices are simple. MWP and Robinson both have roles, albeit very different ones, on this team.
That being said, we still have five more (but really, why!?!) preseason games left and much can change.
I mean, it only took three games for the entire NBA Finals to change when the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers despite having the first-ever unanimous MVP on the roster.