The Los Angeles Lakers entered 2019 NBA free agency with just four players on the roster: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Despite that, general manager Rob Pelinka and company put together one of the NBA’s best and deepest rosters.
The Lakers added major pieces (DeMarcus Cousins and Danny Green), solid role players (Avery Bradley, JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Quinn Cook, and Alex Caruso), and veterans (Rajon Rondo, Jared Dudley, and Troy Daniels). They also added Zach Norvell Jr. and Kostas Antetokounmpo with their two two-way deals.
In a wide-open NBA, this combination can easily compete for a championship for the 2019-20 NBA season and to some, may even be the favorites. However, the list above puts their roster at just 14 players, one shy of the league maximum for the regular season.
And it’s recently been reported that the Lakers will wait for the Memphis Grizzlies to buy out Andre Iguodala before even considering filling out that final spot. If that report is true, it would be another in a growing list of positive moves made by the Lakers front office this offseason.
The Lakers have absolutely no reason to fill that roster spot now with the free agent market being completely dried up. 14 players are more than enough to make a strong rotation, and it’s more than likely that three or four of their players will hardly ever see the court as it is.
This means that adding a 15th player with the available options would almost guarantee that he sees no time on the court. As of right now, the best available at each position are Shaun Livingston, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Kenneth Faried, and Pau Gasol. Of these options, Gasol is the only remotely intriguing one, but the Lakers logjam down low doesn’t need to be any larger than it already is.
The Grizzlies are currently adamant about finding an Iguodala trade instead of buying him out. However, Iguodala is 35-years-old and making $17.2 million this upcoming season. The former NBA Finals MVP and three-time champion is certainly still a useful player, but it’s hard to imagine any contender spending that type of money for a 20-minute-a-night bench player regardless of his credentials.
If the Grizzlies eventually do cave and buy him out, the Lakers would immediately become the frontrunners to sign him. Beyond the immediate championship contention and getting to team up with James and Davis, it’s his connection to Pelinka that could shoot the Lakers to the top. Pelinka was Iguodala’s agent from his rookie season all the way until getting hired as the team’s general manager.
It was Pelinka who advised Iguodala to decline a one-year, $16 million deal from the Denver Nuggets in 2013 free agency, which led to him getting a four-year, $48 million deal from the Golden State Warriors. In total, he earned nearly $80 million in six seasons with the Warriors before being traded to the Grizzlies in early July.
These types of former connections resonate with a player, and it shows as Iguodala has spoken extremely highly of Pelinka as recently as June.
Those two major arguments alone are enough to convince the Lakers to stay patient with regard to filling their last roster spot. If they can swing Iguodala on a minimum deal, it would almost instantly make them the sole championship favorites. And while the same would be true of the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, and several other teams, those other teams don’t have that connection Pelinka does.
However, let’s say the Lakers wait for Iguodala and he either doesn’t get bought out or does and decides to play for another team. In either one of those cases, waiting would be by far their best option.
Going back to the previous argument, there are no free agents of note available that fit this team and are worth using the final roster spot on. So in the case of Iguodala not ending up the Lakers, the smart thing to do is wait it out all the way until February and March when the trade deadline and the buyout market really open up.
By February, most teams will know if they are buyers or sellers. It’s at this point that good role players find themselves on the trade block or bought out as teams want to either collect new assets or do right by a player who’s fought hard all season for a losing effort.
This past February, Enes Kanter, Wayne Ellington, Wesley Matthews, Markieff Morris, Nik Stauskas, Greg Monroe, Ben McLemore, and Alex Abrines were all available on the buyout market. It’s safe to say that four of these players — Ellington, Matthews, Stauskas, and McLemore — would be perfect fits for this current roster.
Now, it obviously won’t be these same players again when February 2020 rolls around, but 8-10 really solid rotation players being available for the taking will absolutely still exist. The Lakers saw help on the buyout market as recently as last season with the addition of Tyson Chandler, who was a huge positive before getting hurt.
This is all to say two things: the Lakers need to keep their final roster spot open no matter what and they’ll be just fine regardless of whether or not Iguodala is that player.