Playoff-Bound or Not, Lakers Are Smart to Add Veteran Depth

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2017

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 30: Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks enters the court before the game against the San Antonio Spurs on November 30, 2016 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES — NBA teams are built on "ifs"—calculated risks.

Some ifs are safer bets. If you put Kevin Durant on a team with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the chances of an NBA title are pretty good.

The Philadelphia 76ers may finally see the fruits of their long play after years of sacrificing wins to better their position in the NBA lottery and draft. This season, they may be a force with promising young talents like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.

On Monday, word emerged that the Los Angeles Lakers will sign veteran center Andrew Bogut for the upcoming season.

For Los Angeles, the "if" of Bogut is almost frivolous.

After winning 26 games last season, the Lakers are not expected to compete with the Warriors for the West.

Bogut will reportedly sign a partially guaranteed contract. He'll need to earn that 15th and final spot with a strong training camp.

He might displace other tryouts like Vander Blue, Briante Weber, Stephen Zimmerman and/or V.J. Beachem. Maybe one moves on to be an impact player somewhere else.

On the floor, Bogut might eat up too much of Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant's time. If the Lakers aren't a contender, then shouldn't the minutes go to the young, developing bigs instead of the nearly 33-year-old Bogut?

But head coach Luke Walton, who was with Bogut as an assistant in Golden State for two seasons, has the power to manage his team's rotation. If one of the younger centers earns the time, Bogut can sit—like the departed Timofey Mozgov did late last season.

Where Bogut might make the biggest difference is if starting center Brook Lopez misses any significant time.

The 29-year-old Lopez has played in at least 72 games through four of the last five years, but he missed most of the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons with foot injuries.

Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

If Lopez suffers even a minor setback, Walton can easily plug in the experienced Bogut instead of relying on two 20-year-olds in Zubac and Bryant.

Why would that matter if the Lakers are lottery-bound?

For one, the team doesn't have a first-round pick. Either the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers will use it next year as the Lakers finally pay the price for the 2012 Steve Nash trade.

As well, the Lakers may be in the hunt for a low playoff seed in the Western Conference.

That may not seem plausible given the migration of stars to the West, including Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets.

Both the Wolves and Nuggets will probably finish ahead of the Lakers this season. So too will the presumptive top four in the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Warriors and Thunder.

The Rockets, who won 55 games last season, have added Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. If healthy, they should break the 60-win threshold.

HOUSTON, TX  - JULY 14: General Manager Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets, Chris Paul and Head Coach Mike D'Antoni poses for a photo during a press conference on July 14, 2017 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowled
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz lost Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics. Both the Clippers and Jazz won 51 games last season and will be tested without their respective All-Stars.

The New Orleans Pelicans can boast Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday, but the combination is unproven, and the team may be desperate for outside shooting.

The Portland Trail Blazers won just 41 games last year. The Memphis Grizzlies notched 43 and have even shakier depth now behind Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Both may be better than the Lakers, but is that a lock?

Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns do not appear poised to move up in the conference.

The Lakers may benefit late in the season as teams start to shut down their veterans, be it to improve lottery position or rest players in preparation for the playoffs.

Without a draft pick, the Lakers have no reason to tank.

If Lonzo Ball can impact his team on the floor like he did at UCLA and with the Lakers' summer squad in Las Vegas, the team will be better than last year's disaster.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The Lakers also added veteran Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to help add a defensive element to the backcourt. Rookie Kyle Kuzma was one of the best players on the summer squad.

Brandon Ingram looked impressive in his lone appearance in Las Vegas. If he can take a step forward in his sophomore season, the Lakers will be a more significant threat.

The same can be said should Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson show improvement, especially defensively.

With Lopez, Bogut, Zubac and Bryant, they have very solid depth at center. Lopez is a much better offensive player than Mozgov. Bogut is well-versed in Walton's style of basketball via their Golden State ties.

Assuming it all comes together for Los Angeles, this season still has many ifs. But if there are seven teams clearly better than in the West, there remains a chance that seven are worse.

It may not be a great chance, but in signing Bogut, the Lakers are adding a little insurance for a playoff push.

     

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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