The preseason is drawing to a close and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton is making his final tweaks before embarking on the 2017-2018 NBA regular season. There are a number of important decisions that will have to be made, like whether Larry Nance Jr. or Julius Randle will be the starting power forward (or perhaps even Kyle Kuzma?) and what the team’s rotations will look like.
There is, of course, also the small matter of the roster itself, which isn’t finalized and will need to be by October 16th.
With Luke Walton’s recent assertion that Tyler Ennis has not lost his job as the Lakers backup point guard to Alex Caruso, that means the team currently sits with 14 guaranteed contracts on the books. NBA teams can carry 15 players (plus a pair of two-way contracts, which is what Caruso is on), so that means there is only one spot remaining and three players competing for it: Andrew Bogut, Briante Weber, and Vander Blue.
On the surface, it’s a ho-hum decision. The 15th man is unlikely to see much playing time or make a huge impact on the team’s win total. Of course, for the three individuals it’s a monumental, life-altering moment, but for the Lakers franchise it probably won’t make or break them (although it sure would have been nice to keep Hassan Whiteside around in 2014).
Still, team chemistry and development are real things, and injuries do occur throughout the NBA’s 82-game gauntlet, so while it the 15th roster spot may not be as important as say, figuring out Brandon Ingram’s jump shot, it’s still something that matters.
In terms of positional needs, Weber would make the most sense. The Lakers really only have Lonzo Ball and Ennis as true point guards, although Jordan Clarkson can spend some minutes there and Caruso can be called up from the G-League when needed, though he is limited to 45 days with the Lakers during the G-League season.
Having a pesky defensive point guard like Weber could be useful when dealing with some of the star guards in the NBA, and he has flashed some playmaking skills during his previous stops in the league.
Blue, on the other hand, would be perhaps the most heart-breaking cut. He has toiled away in the D-League (now G-League) for the better part of four years, the last three with the Los Angeles D-Fenders (now South Bay Lakers). Blue has steadfastly worked on his game and was named D-League MVP last season.
Simply put, he’s too good to not be in the NBA.
However, he is more of a scorer than anything else, and the Lakers already have Jordan Clarkson as their focal point off the bench. It’s conceivable that Clarkson could be traded this season to clear cap space, but that’s far from a certainty.
Meanwhile, Aussie big man Bogut is perhaps the most likely selection but is also the worst fit. The Lakers could certainly use his rim protection, but he’s 32, coming off of a serious leg injury, and Los Angeles already has three centers on the roster in Brook Lopez, Ivica Zubac, and Thomas Bryant.
Factor in that Luke Walton likes to carve out small-ball minutes with Julius Randle or Larry Nance Jr. occupying the center position and it’s difficult to see where having another center helps the team unless Bogut can greatly outplay Zubac and take over the backup minutes.
It’s also noteworthy that while neither Blue nor Weber have played many preseason minutes, as of this writing Bogut has yet to play a single second thanks to visa issues and a groin injury.
Not great for a guy hoping to prove that he is healthy enough to return to NBA action.
On the plus side, Bogut has a solid relationship with Walton from their time together with the Golden State Warriors, and young teams need veterans that can act as additional coaches out on the floor, even if it’s only during practice.
Blue and Weber are better fits, and may arguably even be more productive players right now than Bogut, but neither can come anywhere close to offering the kind of experience that the big Aussie can, and his defense-first mentality could come in handy on a team that was dead last in the league last season on that end of the court.
It’s also possible that the Lakers could waive either Blue or Weber and then keep them in the fold by offering them their second two-way contract, but that option certainly doesn’t exist with Bogut.
It may be a relatively minor decision, but there are a lot of factors to weigh for Walton and his staff to weigh. The Lakers surprised everyone last season when they waived the guaranteed contract of young swingman Anthony Brown in order to clear out a spot for veteran Metta World Peace, so it’s anyone’s guess which direction they will go with the 15th and final roster spot this year.