There were a variety of strategies that Rob Pelinka and the front office could have formulated when structuring thee Los Angeles Lakers roster this offseason. Many anticipated the re-signings of Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, but many were unsure of what would happen with D’Angelo Russell.
Needless to say, D’Lo is back and should be motivated to redeem himself after the rock bottom of his career (thus far) against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. The front office also elected to exercise its team option on Jarred Vanderbilt, which should have been a surprise to absolutely no one after his energetic contributions post-trade deadline last season.
Aside from D’Lo (and many still assumed he would be back as well), it was largely assumed that the core that closed the season together would be back for another run at the title in 2023-2024.
What many did not see coming, however, was the flurry of moves that pieced together the remainder of the roster. First, it was Taurean Prince coming over on the bi-annual exception. Then it was Jaxson Hayes, a lottery pick in 2019, coming over on a minimum deal. Then it was Gabe Vincent, an essential ingredient in the Miami Heat’s title run recipe last postseason, coming over to Los Angeles on the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.
Finally, it was Cam Reddish, another 2019 lottery pick, signing with the Lakers on a minimum deal (which could very easily turn out to be the steal of the summer). This is not to mention the pair of talented incoming draft picks, Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis.
We have all bore witness to the scouting department’s wizardry over the years. Furthermore, let us not forget that there is still a 14th roster spot which will most likely be filled by a player that can contribute to the rotation.
This roster now sits on a clear foundation of versatility. Up and down the roster, there are talented players that can play across multiple positions. And while that versatility will without a doubt lead to a lot of flexibility on the part of Darvin Ham in terms of his rotations, he will also have some very difficult decisions to make in terms of how he allocates the 240 minutes of floor time.
Clearly, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Reaves are penciled in as starters. It is also obvious that beyond those 3, there are a lot of really, really solid professional basketball players that can each contribute to winning in different ways. Training camp will provide the remaining eleven players a chance to distinguish themselves.
There will be plenty to keep an eye on when the team heads to training camp, but there 3 battles to keep an enhanced eye on within the broader war.
Lakers training camp battles to keep an eye on:
Third frontcourt starter: Jarred Vanderbilt vs Rui Hachimura vs Taurean Prince vs Jaxson Hayes (vs Christian Wood/Bismack Biyombo)
Based on salary alone, you would expect the Lakers to start their new $17 million per year man. Rui certainly looked the part of a starting-caliber forward in the 2023 postseason, as well. However, after the 2023 trade deadline, it did not take long for Jarred Vanderbilt to cement himself in the starting lineup.
That did not always mean Vando was a part of the closing lineup over Rui, but his defensive tenacity was vital to setting the tone at the start of each contest. Surely, those two are the favorites to join LeBron and AD in the starting frontcourt.
Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for the fanbase), they will have plenty of competition for that starting slot.
Taurean Prince provides a solid presence on the defensive end and has quietly developed into one of the more steady 3&D options across the league. There is no questioning he will bring toughness on the defensive end, and if he is hitting shots consistently in camp he could very easily claim the starting prize.
There has been no shortage of recent circulation pertaining to the Lakers’ admiration for Jaxson Hayes. If Darvin Ham is looking to start a lineup more closely resembling that of the 2019-2020 Lakers, starting a two-big lineup with AD-Hayes would be the move. He may never develop a consistent jump shot, but his athleticism alone is very reminiscent of a young JaVale McGee. Scoring in the paint with AD and Hayes both lurking would be no easy feat.
And while each of those candidates is more than worthy, let us again recall that the front office is still in the process of filling the 14th roster spot. There are plenty of available free agents that could definitely contribute to the rotation and one that could even slot in nicely next to the team’s superstars.