The preseason has not been kind to the Los Angeles Lakers thus far.
LA started off exhibition play with back-to-back blowout losses against the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns. Fortunately, neither LeBron James nor Russell Westbrook suited up, so improvement can be expected soon. However, the Lakers have already lost one projected starter for the immediate future.
Trevor Ariza is out for a minimum of eight weeks
Trevor Ariza, who has been sidelined for the bulk of training camp, will now be out even longer. The 36-year-old underwent an arthroscopic debridement procedure on his right ankle and will be re-evaluated in eight weeks.
Ariza is one of seven new Laker veterans playing on a one-year contract. The 17-year forward signed for $2.64 million, the veteran’s minimum, after spending last season with the Miami Heat. As a whole, Ariza has played for 10 teams throughout his NBA career, including the Lakers in 2008 and 2009.
The Athletic reported early into camp that Ariza was one of the favorites to start on opening night. The “Three & D” specialist was projected to join James, Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and Wayne Ellington in LA’s new-look lineup.
The Lakers have several options to replace Ariza
LA valued the shooting, defense, and leadership Ariza brought to the team, making him a solid choice as one of the starting five players. But with the veteran on the shelf until early December at the soonest, head coach Frank Vogel has a few different players he can turn to instead.
One logical option is Carmelo Anthony. Arguably LA’s biggest acquisition aside from Westbrook, ‘Melo is more of a scorer than Ariza, averaging 13.4 points off of the bench last season with the Portland Trail Blazers. But Vogel may prefer the scoring punch the 10-time All-Star brings to the second unit when one or none of his three superstars are on the court.
Another player who fits the mold of a three-point shooting wing is Kent Bazemore. Bazemore, who like Ariza is in his second go-around with the Lakers, hit 40.8% of his triples last season with the Golden State Warriors. But at 6-foot-4, he would give LA three players in the lineup 6-4 or shorter.
The 20-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker is also 6-4. He’s also still developing a consistent shot from distance. But LA’s decision to reward him with a three-year, $30.8 million deal shows he’s expected to play a significant role on the team, whether he’s a “starter” or not.
If none of those three players are suitable options, LA could choose to go big. The Lakers brought back Dwight Howard and signed DeAndre Jordan, giving them two former All-Stars with plenty of starting experience. It would require a significant gameplan change, but moving James to Ariza’s spot, Davis to the 4, and either Howard or D.J. to the 5 might be the way they go.
Expectations are high for the Los Angeles Lakers
Ariza’s injury doesn’t lessen any of the expectations LA is facing. With a star-studded roster, the Lakers are still among the two or three top championship contenders heading into the 2021-22 season.
The Lakers’ success will ultimately be determined by James, Davis, and Westbrook. LA suffered last season with LeBron missing 27 games and A.D. missing 36, falling all the way down to the seven-seed in a competitive Western Conference. The hope is that Westbrook, who’s on his fourth team in four seasons, can help shoulder the load.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the team doesn’t have an important job, either. Now with Ariza’s injury, more will be expected of Anthony, Bazemore, and Horton-Tucker. Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn, two young, high-scoring guards given up on by their old teams, might be asked to step up even more.
LA should ultimately survive for the next several weeks until Ariza gets back. But how the team survives will be an interesting story to follow.