The Los Angeles Lakers have a retooled roster that will need to be whittled down to 15 players before the 2015-16 NBA season tips off. Head coach Byron Scott said Monday the team would likely begin trimming the squad following Tuesday's preseason game against the Sacramento Kings.
"I would think we probably start cutting down then," said Scott, per Ryan Ward of LakersNation.com.
Only 13 players can dress for games, so that will factor in to how Scott shapes the final look of the team. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made some savvy moves to shore up numerous areas of need in the offseason, so L.A. may be forced to demote or cut ties with several developing youngsters.
The frontcourt now features veteran free-agent acquisition Brandon Bass and former All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who arrived in a trade from Indiana. Last year's lottery pick, Julius Randle, returns from an injury that caused him to miss all but part of one game as a rookie.
Suddenly it's pretty crowded up front, but that trio figures to be a lock to make the final 15. The Lakers may well send late first-round draft choice Larry Nance Jr. to the D-League, opting to keep stretch 4 Ryan Kelly and lock down a defensive presence with upside in Robert Upshaw.
Nance and Kelly have intriguing skill sets, but L.A. has plenty of firepower on the perimeter and figures to space the floor just fine without one of them. Kelly is the roster incumbent and gets the edge there. As for Upshaw, Robert Sacre hasn't proved enough to justify keeping over a 21-year-old 7-footer who insists he has put a troubled past behind him.
No. 2 overall draft pick D'Angelo Russell will man the point as Jordan Clarkson transitions to the 2-guard spot, leaving Lakers legend Kobe Bryant to play the 3.
Reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams figures to play a similar role with his new squad after a career year with the Raptors in Toronto last season. Superior defense and basketball IQ are bound to give Williams a lot more minutes than the explosive but inconsistent Nick Young.
Anthony and Jabari Brown also factor into the equation on the wing. The latter appeared in 19 games last season and averaged 11.9 points per contest, while Anthony Brown is a rookie second-round pick who cracked the starting five in Sunday's exhibition rout over Maccabi Haifa.
Fred J. Robledo of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group believes the Lakers have the pieces in place to make the postseason if they aren't struck too hard by injuries:
Having a lot of quality players to choose from is a dilemma Scott has to love having a season removed from an absolute dearth of personnel. Bryant is healthy and just scored 21 points in 18 minutes his last time out, while Russell appears to be living up to the hype, according to Metta World Peace, per NBA.com's Joey Ramirez:
[Russell] understands what's going on out there, and I've seen that from day one. And I'm afraid to tell that to a lot of rookies, because if someone would've told me that when I was a rookie it would've gone to my head. But I'm not afraid to tell him that he's really, really advanced.
He's a vet, and that's it. He does everything like a veteran, which is great. He definitely has my respect as far as mentally. He's sharp mentally; very poised.
World Peace is going to be on the roster bubble as well. His championship experience could certainly do wonders for such a young squad, yet it's unclear whether he can still play at a high enough level to justify taking up one of 15 spots. Since the Lakers agreed to bring him aboard in the first place, it stands to reason World Peace is going to be in L.A.—if not in a significant playing role.
The role of mentor isn't something Bryant has exactly been known for in his storied career, but he'll have plenty of wisdom of his own to share with the promising young backcourt of Russell and Clarkson. If Bryant wants a chance at a sixth championship run, he'll have no choice but to help them as much as possible.
Los Angeles' hopes of factoring into the loaded Western Conference playoff picture hinge on Russell's development. If he's an immediate-impact type of player and the new pieces on the Lakers' roster come together, this could be a vastly improved team.
Based on what World Peace is saying, Russell has the goods to get the job done as a rookie, earn Bryant's respect and catalyze a big turnaround for one of the premier franchises in sports.