Before the 2019-20 NBA season was officially suspended due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Los Angeles Lakers made a move by signing Dion Waiters after he cleared waivers.
Although Waiters was unable to get any playing time with his new team due to the sudden hiatus, he is now poised for an increased role since Avery Bradley opted out of playing in Orlando, Florida, due to health concerns with his son.
The Lakers have since doubled down on shoring up some quality backcourt depth by bringing JR Smith into the mix as well. The two will now be tasked with filling the void left by Bradley and solidifying the championship expectations this team set going into Walt Disney World.
Staying prepared amid on ongoing pandemic while in quarantine has offered up its own set of challenges for players. Fortunately, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is encouraged by what he has seen from Waiters thus far.
“He shot the heck out of the ball [last Sunday]. That was an encouraging thing. He’s working extremely hard and looks really good. Like JR, both of these guys haven’t played a lot of full-contact basketball in some time; even prior to the hiatus,” Vogel said.
“So conditioning will be a concern, but the talent is obvious when you watch him work out, handle the ball, create shots. He’s one of the more talented guys in this league. He’s looked really good. If we can get these guys brought along at the right pace from a conditioning standpoint, I feel like both of them are going to help us.”
Vogel’s comments indicate that the Lakers have high hopes for what Waiters and Smith will bring to the table in this truncated season.
After all, the pair have similar skill sets as scoring combo guards. While Waiters’ ability to create shots for others could result in an increased role on offense, Smith’s two-way skill set should pay some dividends on both sides of the floor.
Waiters endured a rocky year with the Miami Heat before his unceremonious departure culminated with him being waived by the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite all the turmoil, he will now have an opportunity to end the season on a high note by etching out an integral role for himself on this heavily-favored Lakers squad.
Lakers begin practicing in Orlando
After completing the quarantine period, the Lakers hit the court as a team Saturday night for the first time since March. Vogel has a plan to ease the team into increasing their workload, but that is coming with a clear focus.
“We still have a lot of time, and we have to be intelligent with that. Just watching our guys work out last week — we put them through some pretty rigorous 1-on-1 work — the guys seem to be in at least decent shape,” Vogel said. “For me, they’ve been doing no-contact work for a few months. We want to get their bodies used to that again, so we’re going to get right after it.
“It’s not going to be long but we will do live work today. The full-court work will be down and back, stop. So we’re not compromising their bodies too much but we are getting them used to playing 94 feet again. We do have a lot of time before our first scrimmage and even more time before our seeding games begin.”
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