On paper, the Los Angeles Lakers look extremely undermanned heading into the 2013-14 season.
After all, according to the NBA on ESPN, there isn't a top-24 player on the roster:
But the truth is, these Lakers are overstaffed at the moment. After waiving 2012 second-rounder Darius Johnson-Odom, L.A.'s roster still has one more name than the league's 15-man maximum permits.
At least one more player has to be cut, but as many as three could be on their way out.
Handicapping the field suggests there are some early front-runners for those final roster spots. But remember, this is Lala Land we're talking about. A place where literally anything can happen.
Of the 16 names still in play, 11 of them are working on guaranteed deals. That doesn't actually guarantee them a roster spot, but it's hard to imagine the suddenly budget-conscious Lakers opting to pay a(nother) player to not suit up this season.
Here's a quick rundown of those 11 players, and how they'll fit into Mike D'Antoni's plan for 2013-14:
|PG||Steve Nash||Steve Blake||Jordan Farmar|
|SG||Kobe Bryant||Nick Young||Jodie Meeks|
|C||Chris Kaman||Jordan Hill||Robert Sacre|
Those positions can and will change at times, but that's how everyone looks at their natural spots.
For those of you working without a Lakers media guide, these are the five names still pining for a full-time gig: Xavier Henry, Shawne Williams, Elias Harris, Ryan Kelly and Marcus Landry.
Two of the five have partial guarantees in their contracts, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:
Shawne Williams and Elias Harris have $100k each guaranteed - I don't see either getting cut since they're already going to be paid— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) October 17, 2013
So what do those partial guarantees mean? In all likelihood, they ensure that the pair will at least stick around through the start of the regular season. Based on the differences in their resumes, that money roughly equates, per Pincus, to two to three weeks for Williams and about a month for Harris.
After that, one (or both) could come back on the chopping block.
Williams, a five-year veteran, should be around for the long haul. His length (6'9") and perimeter shot (41.7 percent this preseason) make him an intriguing fit as D'Antoni's coveted stretch 4, a role he played for the coach previously when both were with the New York Knicks in 2010-11.
Harris has had a quiet preseason (2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game), meaning it's likely his proving ground will stretch over into the regular season.
That won't be the case, however, for former lottery pick Henry.
After three disappointing seasons split with the Memphis Grizzlies and then-New Orleans Hornets, the former Kansas Jayhawk has looked reborn in the purple and gold. He's been the Lakers' third-best scorer this preseason (13.6 points per game) and second-best sniper (55.6 percent).
A rugged defender with the quickness and athleticism Kobe Bryant said the Lakers needed to add this summer, via ESPN Los Angeles' Jovan Buha, Henry could be a steal if his scoring and shooting hold up.
So that fills three of the four remaining roster spots. While the Lakers don't need to carry 15 players into the regular season, they could use these next few months to see exactly what they have on their roster:
It's not my $ - but I go 15 players until the lock-down date in January - give guys some time to prove themselves— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) October 17, 2013
It's a two-man race for that last seat in the locker room, and both players bring something a little different to the table.
Experience Or Potential?
Landry is not what you'd call a seasoned vet. Not in NBA speak, at least.
The 27-year-old has appeared in only 18 NBA games, and none of them came outside of the 2009-10 season.
As for being a professional ball player, though, he's been around the block globe.
Following his abbreviated runs with the Knicks and Boston Celtics, he's since played in Puerto Rico, Spain, China and Venezuela. He's also made three runs through the D-League, where he spent last season with the Reno Bighorns.
Landry was Reno's second-best three-point shooter in 2012-13 (42.8 percent) and led the D-League in made triples (106) in 2010-11. The Lakers are certainly in the market for a marksman. L.A. finished last season ranked 19th in three-point shooting (35.5 percent), but attempted the third-most shots from distance (24.6 per game).
But Landry has struggled finding range this preseason. Frankly, he's struggled to find any sort of production. Through five games, he's shooting 22.7 percent from deep and just 25.9 percent overall.
Luckily, he does have a believer in his coach. D'Antoni, who led Landry's Knicks, served up some serious praise for the journeyman, via Lakers.com's Trevor Wong. "I know he shoots better than what he has shown,” D’Antoni said. “He’s our best shooter, probably.”
Shooting also happens to be a big strength of Kelly, L.A.'s lone pull from the 2013 draft (No. 48 overall).
The former Duke Blue Devil shot 37.9 percent from deep during his four seasons in Durham. Standing 6'11", he also has the ideal size to be D'Antoni's floor-spacing big—Landry is 6'7" and best-served on the perimeter.
Five years Landry's junior, the 22-year-old Kelly should be a no-brainer for the spot. With so many bodies in front of whichever player the Lakers chose, why not roll the dice on a player with upside?
The problem is that gambling on Kelly may be more high-stakes than the Lakers would like. Slowed by a foot injury that plagued his senior season, he was a no-show at the Las Vegas Summer League and has just one preseason game under his belt.
That inactivity may have put Kelly's spot in jeopardy:
I was initially under impression Ryan Kelly's spot was secure - I became less confident in that when he wasn't ready for camp - we'll see.— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) October 17, 2013
But will that be enough to decide this race?
And the Winner Is...
Landry is a D'Antoni guy. It wasn't by coincidence that he landed in the Lakers' training camp.
But he's redundant on this roster. The Lakers have volume scorers on the wing already (Nick Young, Jodie Meeks). Landry's a gunner, which unfortunately doesn't fill a pressing need at his position.
His battle was always going to be uphill. Now that it's shifted to being him against a draft pick, he would have had to play out of his mind to land this gig. Instead, he's been mired in a shooting slump at the most inopportune time.
Which roster hopeful will make the biggest impact on the Lakers this season?
Kelly's a mystery.
A former McDonald's All-American, he never capitalized on his potential at Duke. He was good (12.9 points per game as a senior) but rarely dominant. Already forced to play catch-up, it will be tough for him to open many eyes over these final three games of the preseason.
Yet those question marks will be what ultimately keep Kelly around.
The Lakers do not have any real upside on this roster. Save for a few complementary pieces (Wes Johnson, Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre), the NBA book is already out on these players.
And, for the most part, those stories aren't good. That's why a best-case scenario stops short of significance, why this team's ceiling caps at a low-end playoff spot.
Kelly might not change that outcome. Truth be told, he could play a far larger role on the Los Angeles D-Defenders than he does on the Lakers.
But if he's good, he can be scary good. He's long, mobile and a scoring threat from inside and out. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better way to develop a basketball IQ than spending four seasons under Mike Krzyzewski.
Whether he can actually climb anywhere near the top of his ceiling is anyone's guess. But the Lakers would be foolish not to be the team that figures it out.