Last year’s Los Angeles Lakers championship run was played on the backs of two superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It was aided by high-performing role players like Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Rajon Rondo. And it was catalyzed by a late-season addition in Markieff Morris.
While Morris hasn’t found that same magic this season, he was a crucial part of last year’s squad after being bought out by the Detroit Pistons before signing in LA and joining the rivalry with his twin brother’s Clippers. Against the Rockets, in particular, Morris was the key to allowing the Lakers to play “small” with Anthony Davis at center and still bully the even smaller Rockets in the paint.
With the All-Star break and trade deadline fast approaching, the buyout market could once again take shape for the Lakers to find a contributor for their final roster spot. Two names that have already been discussed in NBA circles as potential buyout targets are Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. Both bigs play for middling (or worse) Eastern Conference squads who have benched them in the past week to work with them on finding a new destination. If both are traded, then this is a moot point; but there is a sizeable chance that a trade market for the two talented bigs never develops, leaving them as free agents after the deadline has passed. Could either be options for the Lakers in that scenario?
Drummond is the likelier of the two candidates to be traded. The former Piston is still only 27 years old and was averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game before being shut down by the Cavs following their acquisition of Jarrett Allen. Drummond has been linked to the Nets via a trade or buyout signing.
Regardless of his always eye-popping numbers, Drummond has been criticized as a player who has little actual impact on games. He is offensively limited to being a pick and roll finisher at the rim and scoring off of putbacks while also being a bit of a black hole in the few possessions that teams run offense through him. Defensively, he has the athleticism to block shots and the agility to switch on smaller guards but seldom shows the consistent focus and attention to detail to be in the right positions to affect plays.
Still, that doesn’t mean he would not be able to succeed with the Lakers if that partnership ever formed. The Lakers won a championship relying on the athleticism of both JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard during the regular season. While both of their roles were diminished in the playoffs, their overall impact on the team was still notable.
In Drummond, the Lakers could get a player who would single-handedly improve the Lakers’ 16th-ranked offensive rebounding rate, a weapon they used to much effect last season. Beyond that, he can be the lob threat that the Lakers are missing without McGee and Howard in their half court offense. Defensively, perhaps a partnership alongside Anthony Davis – once the Lakers star returns from injury – could propel the big man to finally use his physical tools in a much more impactful and effective way; if not, he would likely ride the bench much like last year’s bigs did once the playoffs come around.
Griffin brings a much different skill set to the basketball court than Drummond. The former All-NBA star is nowhere close to the high-flying act of his Clippers days; in fact, Griffin has not dunked once this season and has registered two total blocks. The loss in athleticism after several injuries has clearly affected him, leading to a 36.5% field goal percentage, just above last year’s career low of 35.2%.
All that seems to indicate that Griffin is over the hill but as the Lakers’ crosstown rivals are learning with Nicolas Batum, looking washed up in a dire situation does not necessarily indicate that one cannot be a contributor to a winning team.
Griffin, in particular, has some skills that could be beneficial to this Lakers team. First, while the percentages are down this year, Griffin has turned himself into a decent 3-point shooter in this chapter of his career and can at least space the floor some for LeBron James and Davis to operate in the paint. Before their 11/26 performance against the Wolves, the Lakers had been in a long slump from behind the arc; having another player who is not afraid to take those shots (6.2 attempts per game this season) and who can get hot, as the Lakers saw firsthand in his 5/10 shooting display in their loss to the Pistons, could be a major asset.
Perhaps more importantly, Griffin could provide yet another playmaker to a team that is gathering more this year to ease the load on James. Griffin is not the same level of passer as Marc Gasol but there are similarities in their distribution from the top of the key. Griffin’s assist rate has fallen off since his All-Star season just two years ago, but at 18.7 percent, he has still been a crucial playmaker for a Pistons team that needs it.
Griffin’s fit on the Lakers – not to mention his availability – seems much cleaner than Drummond’s. He can play alongside any of the Lakers’ other three bigs and while his defense is decidedly a liability, the Lakers’ talented roster may be enough to squeeze out whatever he has left in the tank.
Of course, neither Griffin not Drummond seem to be on their way to LA just yet. The Cavs likely find a suitor willing to give up something for Drummond. Griffin may get bought out and the LA lifestyle could convince him on a move to the Lakers; though it’s a lot harder to use that as a selling point when it’s only a half-season guarantee of living there. Both could provide some valuable but extremely different skillsets if the Lakers do find themselves in a position to pursue what could be the two biggest fish in the buyout market. Much like any other buyout candidate, there are questions about both players’ abilities to help the on-court product. But just maybe, one could be this year’s version of Morris and help the Lakers win a playoff series or even another championship.