The Los Angeles Lakers opened the 2021-22 season with a 121-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on Tuesday night. It wasn't the way the Lakers wanted to start a new campaign, but it was only the first of 82 regular-season games.
Plus, Los Angeles is going to be getting some reinforcements down the line. Several players missed the opener and are dealing with injuries, such as Trevor Ariza (ankle), Wayne Ellington (hamstring) and Kendrick Nunn (ankle).
The Lakers are also without guard Talen Horton-Tucker, who underwent right thumb surgery last week and is expected to be re-evaluated at some point in December. And while Horton-Tucker is among the youngest players on Los Angeles' veteran-filled roster, the 20-year-old appeared to be in line for a large role this season.
According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Lakers' coaching staff had "discussed the possibility" of Horton-Tucker being in the team's starting lineup to open the season. Instead, it was Kent Bazemore who started Tuesday alongside LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan.
Horton-Tucker played only six games as a rookie in 2019-20, but he emerged as a key part of Los Angeles' rotation last season. He averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 65 games during the 2020-21 campaign, which gave him plenty to build off of heading into this season.
Still, it's clear that the Lakers think highly of Horton-Tucker, who signed a three-year, $32 million deal this past offseason to stay with the team when he was a restricted free agent.
Heading into the season, Los Angeles general manager Rob Pelinka stated that he wanted to see Horton-Tucker continue to improve defensively, which are important skills to have as part of head coach Frank Vogel's system. And Pelinka was confident that Horton-Tucker would keep developing.
"There's nothing that Talen doesn't have to keep him from being an elite player," Pelinka said, per The Athletic's Jovan Buha. "Just, we all know about his publicized incredible wingspan, broad shoulders, quickness, athleticism. If he makes a choice to dominate you on the defensive end with his body and his length and his athleticism, that can be a nightmare for opponents."
Although Horton-Tucker's 2021-22 debut has been delayed, he still has the potential to be a key player for the Lakers this season. Will he still be in consideration for a starting role when he returns? That may depend on how the team is faring at that point and how other players are contributing.
But if Los Angeles wanted to give Horton-Tucker an opportunity to start heading into the season, it seems there could be a chance it will give him some experience doing so at some point during the 2021-22 campaign.