Even going as far back as the pre-draft process, Los Angeles Lakers fans have long had their eye on massive center Robert Upshaw. Despite his well known off-court issues, many fans were intrigued with his size and defensive potential with some even wanting the Lakers to take him with their late first round pick.
The team passed on Upshaw in the draft, but when Upshaw went undrafted, the Lakers quickly signed him to their summer league roster, sparking a lot of excitement amongst the fan base. Upshaw was admittedly out of shape and made very little impact during the summer, but the Lakers still brought him into training camp.
It was assumed that Upshaw would battle fourth-year center Robert Sacre for a backup center position in what would likely be the final spot on the roster. In fact, many believed that Upshaw’s potential would win out over the known commodity in Sacre. As such it came as a bit of a surprise when Upshaw was one of the first cuts of training camp, along with guard Michael Frazier II.
The move led to a number of questions and frustrated fans as many wondered why the Lakers would choose to bypass the tremendous potential of Upshaw in favor of the mediocre-at-best Sacre. We asked our panel of experts whether they believe the Lakers made the right decision in releasing Robert Upshaw. This is what they had to say:
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): As a fan of the potential that seems to be there with Upshaw, the move made little-to-no sense upon first hearing of the decision. LakersNation caught up with him at Media Day, and not only was the work he put into his body after going undrafted evident, but he also appeared to be in precisely the type of focused and determined headspace you’d want to see from an unproven, young big man.
The trouble is, we are not always privy to what is taking place behind-the-scenes and -in particular with Upshaw- it appears there may still not have been enough going on to warrant an NBA roster spot at this time.
If the reports of Upshaw failing to spend the additional time after practices to not only reduce his learning curve but continue to work on reshaping his body happen to be true, then the decision makes a lot more sense. What we have to remind ourselves is that even though the potential may be there, the team took a risk 29 other organizations were not as willing to take in even attempting to develop Upshaw, and has likely been monitoring his professional progress and personal development with a lot more detail and information than any of us would have.
Do I understand the thought process of wanting to further explore what Upshaw might turn into? Of course. If he clears waivers, which is definitely a possibility given the circumstances, then (like the coaching staff) I’d like to see him stick near the city and organization while playing for the D-Fenders.
Even though he’d technically be a free agent that any NBA team would be free to sign at any point, it would be nice to be able to continue keeping close tabs on his progress and maintain the relationship along the way.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): I’ll start this off by saying that I really wanted to see Upshaw on this roster. My hope was that he would overtake Sacre for that final spot on the roster and would develop into a defensive force in due time.
That being said, the Lakers made the right choice in letting him go.
This wouldn’t even be a discussion if not for the insane amount of hatred that has come up for Sacre. The hatred is so strong that, in my opinion, people have looked past exactly what Robert Upshaw is, an undrafted, unproven, extremely raw center. Guys in Upshaw’s position have to TAKE a roster spot, especially when going head-to-head with a player on a guaranteed deal and Upshaw failed to do that despite getting every opportunity to do so.
Upshaw played more total minutes than Sacre and Tarik Black his direct competition for backup center spots as well as fellow undrafted rookies Michael Frazier II and Johnathan Holmes, the latter of which made only two appearances. Outside of a blocked shot, a good-looking fadeaway, and a nice pump fake and drive, Upshaw showed little of substance.
Some might point towards Sacre not doing much either, but that would be missing the point. Upshaw is playing from behind as a non-guaranteed guy and to be on equal level with Sacre is not good enough, and the argument could be made that Sacre outplayed him. He must show without a shadow of a doubt that he is worth a spot over Sacre and he failed in that regard.
All of this is before bringing up the reports of Upshaw not putting in extra work outside of practice. Hopefully he figures things out and fulfills his potential, but as for right now, Upshaw didn’t do enough on the court to warrant remaining with the Lakers.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): For much of the Lakers preaseason the roster discussion centered around the perceived battle between Robert Upshaw and Robert Sacre for a spot as a third-string big man. Fans overwhelmingly favored Upshaw and his massive potential, hoping that he could move past his personal problems and become the rim protector of the future for the club.
It wasn’t just optimism towards Upshaw that was fueling fans allegiances though. Something of a disdain for Sacre has also developed amongst Lakers fans, who have tired of his celebratory antics and stagnant on-court development. Sacre represented a known commodity that was a good fit for team chemistry, but his upside is extremely limited, while Upshaw was a mystery box that could have become anything from a chemistry-killing malcontent to an All-Star piece.
The Lakers somewhat surprisingly went with Sacre. An argument can certainly made that, given the number of young players on LA’s roster, they need an abundance of positive role models on the team, and Sacre is just that. He is limited both offensively and defensively, but plays hard and is a solid presence in the locker room. Players like D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Anthony Brown need guys like that to look up to, and with rumors that the Lakers were scared off by some of Upshaw’s issues the decision is understandable.
Still, the gamble on Upshaw felt like one that the Lakers needed to take. With Tarik Black, Roy Hibbert, and even Brandon Bass available to play center there is little chance that either Sacre or Upshaw would have been asked to play much this year. With that being the case, why not take a shot on the guy with the insanely long wingspan (7’5.5) and the reputation for blocking everything that comes into his path?
Isn’t that exactly the kind of player a rebuilding team should be taking a chance on, regardless of how raw he is presently? Rebuilding teams have the luxury of swinging for the fences on players with upside, yet here the Lakers opted to act as a contending team would be keeping the known commodity.
Of course we can’t judge the Lakers too harshly here, because no one knows the full extent of Upshaw’s issues like they do. It’s also possible that Upshaw ultimately ends up on the D-Fenders, where he can continue his growth while playing plenty of minutes and eventually find his way back to the Lakers. However, from an outside perspective it does appear that cutting Upshaw was a mistake.