BY HANNAH KULIK FOR LAKE SHOW LIFE
The Los Angeles Lakers have started training camp after a long and uneven off-season. There are 19 players in camp, and while certain of them are a lock to make the team, there could be some surprises before the final squad is set.
Veterans Kobe Bryant, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, and Lou Williams will be around all season health permitting. They will be joined by rookie D’Angelo Russell and second year players Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle.
Beyond these seven names, while certain players have better odds of making the final cut, the remaining eight positions on the team are up for grabs and there could be unexpected developments before the regular season starts.
Anthony Brown and Larry Nance Jr. were relatively high draft choices this off-season and have guaranteed contracts. Both men, however, looked very raw in the summer league and may not be ready to contribute much in their first NBA season.
Therefore, while there is no risk they will be cut, they could open the season with the Defenders or be packaged in a trade either for draft choices next summer or to fill a hole this season personnel-wise.
Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre have been with the team long enough for the front office to know what they bring to the court. That said, neither man has any upside potential and neither will ever be more than an end-of-the-bench player on a poor to marginal team.
For his part, Sacre has a big body but with no noticeable skills on offense or defense. At times he displays decent form on his fall away jump shot but he makes those shots irregularly. The talent he needs in order to be an effective center – to rebound, block shots, and protect the rim – he does not possess.
Kelly is weak as a rebounder and defender. Last year he often played 30 minutes or more in a game while grabbing a mere one or two rebounds and allowing opponents to score at will on him. Outside shooting was supposed to be his forte, but his shooting percentage last season was abysmal.
Fans have known for a while that it is time for Sacre and Kelly to move on. There were reports this summer that the team was trying to trade them. They have guaranteed contracts but for modest money, and if either player makes this year’s squad it will be a mistake on the Lakers’ part because it will be at the expense of other players with greater upside potential.
Nick Young‘s position on the team is also tenuous, despite his larger guaranteed salary. He suffered through injuries and a season-long slump last year, and his casual attitude does not make him a favorite of head coach Byron Scott.
Young has to start fast in training camp to wash away the lingering, negative impressions from last season. The Lakers are thin at the small forward position, so Young is going to get an opportunity. He’ll need to score consistently and dedicate himself to playing defense like he’s never done before.
There is nothing we have seen from Young this off-season to suggest he is planning on making any changes. His “Swaggy P” persona is only tolerable if he performs on the court, and if not, it would be easy to see the Lakers trying to shop him in a trade. Reportedly there were no takers over the summer, but the Lakers may resume those efforts if Young does not start strong in the preseason.
Tarik Black and Jabari Brown have a few things in common. Both were undrafted rookies last year. Both joined the Lakers mid-season. Both played well in the limited audition they were given with the team.
Black plays like a center but size-wise is a power forward. He is a high-energy guy who plays hard and with energy every night. While he needs to prove he can be consistent, he had occasional moments on offense and defense last season that were impressive.
The fact he can play two positions makes him valuable, and while he is more of a power forward, the team needs a back-up to Hibbert at center and Black could end up in that role.
Brown, a leading scorer on the D-Fenders last season, joined the Lakers late in the year and due to a rash of injuries was forced into a starter’s role. He played with Clarkson in college which is an advantage, and the two complimented one another pretty well last season. Brown can shoot from the outside and drive to the basket, and he also plays hard on defense.
Brown has a shot at making the squad as the final guard. To do so, he will need to show he used the off-season wisely to continue to improve. He will have to start fast and play well in the preseason.
Mar 19, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Jonathan Holmes (10) shoots the ball against the Butler Bulldogs in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Consol Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Two undrafted players from this season, Jonathan Holmes and Michael Frazier II, will try to buck the odds and make the team this year. Both players had good college careers but NBA scouts did not find them worthy of being selected in the draft, which means there is no margin for error in training camp if they want to make an NBA team.
Frazier was one of the best three-point shooters in the country last year while playing for the University of Florida. He was considered one of the best players in the SEC. He is expected to battle with Brown for the final guard spot on the roster. The player who demonstrates the better three-point touch and dedicates himself more on the defensive end in the preseason will likely get the nod.
Holmes is a player with diverse skills from the University of Texas. A strong 6’ 9”, 240 lbs., he is a natural power forward but is quick enough to play the three. His ability to play both positions is a plus. So, too, is the fact he had a strong summer league performance this year where he shot very well from the outside.
Metta World Peace and Marcelo Huertas are veterans on a team that is largely filled with youth. World-Peace, an NBA star while in his prime, has been out of the league for two seasons and was thought to be done as a player. He brings a toughness and intelligence to the court which the Lakers need, but in the end it may not be enough if his speed and quickness are no longer there.
Many European players have thrived in the NBA and the Lakers are hoping that Huertas will do the same. He has an expansive body of work from which to judge his ability, and the Lakers obviously saw something they liked. The team has youth at the guard position with Clarkson, Russell, and either Brown or Frazier, so there is a need for an experienced back-up at the point guard position.
Jul 10, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns (32) looks to shoot against the defense of Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Upshaw (12) during an NBA Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Center. Minnesota won the game 81-68. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
The 19th and final spot on the training camp squad belongs to Robert Upshaw. Much has been written this off-season about his travails and his potential. At Lakers media day Scott was raving about how Upshaw has looked in recent five on five workouts. He is a project for sure, but his upside could be enormous. Many Laker fans consider him the most intriguing player in training camp.
Upshaw played sparingly in summer league due in part to the fact he was out of shape. Still, he had moments to make people excited about what he could become, especially when he blocked shots by Karl Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor in summer league games. He also displayed a nice shooting touch.
Given a choice between Sacre and Upshaw, Lakers fans would beg management to choose the latter. Let’s hope General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss get the message. In a way Upshaw is a metaphor for the entire Lakers franchise right now – he could implode at any moment but he could also turn himself around and become a star.
The Lakers are a team in transition, suffering through two horrible seasons in a row and hoping they will make real progress this year towards a return to prominence. Beyond the seven core players mentioned at the outset of this article, the other eight positions on the squad are up for grabs.
The odds may favor certain players, and the pundits may think they know how it will turn out, but the final Lakers roster could possibly look different from what most people expect.