The NBA restart is scheduled for July 30, with the Lakers playing their first game against the Los Angeles Clippers on that day. Playing the first game against crosstown rivals and one of the top title contenders only serves to underscore how tricky it will be to win a title amid the coronavirus pandemic. That's perhaps why the team moved quickly to replace guard Avery Bradley, who opted not to join the team in Florida because of concerns for his family's health and his commitment to social justice issues.
According to the New York Times' Marc Stein, the Lakers will sign veteran guard JR Smith before Tuesday's transaction deadline is over:
The 34-year-old last played in November 2018 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has good chemistry with LeBron James, as they won a championship together in 2016. Despite the time away, the Lakers are clearly hoping he can capably pick up at least some of Bradley's 24.2 minutes per game.
While we can't yet know how helpful Smith will be, Lakers shooting guard Danny Green appears optimistic about Smith's abilities, saying he's "shot the ball well" and appears to be in"pretty good shape", per this episode of Inside the Green Room:
Inside The Green Room @GreenRoomInside
On Monday, @wojespn reported that JR Smith will join the Lakers as the team heads to Orlando without Avery Bradley. @DGreen_14 gave @HarrisonSanford his early impressions on what he’s seen from JR & discusses what he hopes is an increased defensive role without Bradley. https://t.co/oZq5acTtJ1
Bradley was shooting 36.4 percent from three-point range before the season was suspended. Smith is a career 37.3 percent shooter from downtown, so if his shooting stroke remains true, he should be able to make up for what the team lost from Bradley in that department.
Defense is another story.
Bradley's perimeter defending helped the Lakers become one of the toughest teams to score on. Smith is a capable defender on most nights, but it's entirely possible he's lost a step or two at his age. Instead, Green feels he may be shouldering that load.
In the clip above, Green says that "hopefully, Coach looks at me as a primary defender" and that the the responsibility will help him because "my defense usually carries over to my offense."
As a strong outside shooter himself, Lakers fans can hope that Green's willingness to step up to the challenge translates into sustained excellence on both ends of the court. Smith is a welcome addition, but he doesn't need to do everything Bradley did to help the Lakers win. If backcourt players like Green, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo and Dion Waiters (among others) rise to the occasion, the Lakers will be very difficult to beat in Orlando and may very well pick up the franchise's first championship since 2010.