Heat and Grizzlies castoff Dion Waiters paid his visit, went through his paces and supposedly was impressive. So did J.R. Smith, who has not played in more than a year. The Lakers have an open roster spot following the release of Troy Daniels on Sunday and as they seek out just the right player to fill that spot for what is expected to be a long playoff run, all NBA eyes are on the practice facility in El Segundo.
But while this may be set up as a choice between Waiters and Smith, fact is, the process may be just beginning.
As the L.A. Times reported on Monday evening, “The team might bring in other players and is in no rush to fill the spot, according to people familiar with their plans.”
That could be good news for other potential free-agent Lakers signees. It’s believed the Lakers are looking for depth and shooting in the backcourt and a number of experienced guards—former Laker Isaiah Thomas and 19-year veteran Jamal Crawford among them—are free agents.
But with the team willing to take the business of finishing the roster slowly, it could be at least a week or so before a decision comes down. Daniels, meanwhile, is free to sign elsewhere and will be playoff-eligible if he does. Coach Frank Vogel addressed that before the Lakers played the Pelicans on Sunday.
“If we were to do something and cross that road at some point, and we had to use Troy’s roster spot, then Troy would be left out in the cold,” Vogel told reporters. “So we wanted to do the right thing by the player and also obviously give ourselves some flexibility if we need to make some type of move in the future.”
Lakers Have Tough Luck on Transactions
The Lakers have not had much luck tinkering with their roster to this point. At the trade deadline, the team attempted to make a move for point guard Derrick Rose from Detroit, but the Pistons rebuffed those conversations. They had interest in Andre Iguodala, but could not put together an offer that made sense for Memphis, and wanted Marcus Morris from the Knicks. Morris ultimately went to the Clippers.
The team was gearing up to bring in retired point guard Darren Collison as a midseason addition and even hosted him at a game with team owner Jeanie Buss. But Collison decided to remain retired.
The Lakers would have gladly welcomed point guard Reggie Jackson, too, from Detroit, but Jackson signed with the Clippers almost immediately after he was bought out by the Pistons.
Another potential target, Moe Harkless, decided not to pursue a buyout when he was traded by the Clippers to the Knicks. Harkless is a free agent this summer and wanted an opportunity to play and produce before he seeks his next contract.
Finally, the Lakers did make a move, signing Marcus Morris’ brother, Markieff Morris, when he was released by the Pistons. Morris has averaged 6.8 points in four games with the Lakers.
Waiters, Smith the Lakers’ Frontrunners
Still, even with the possibility of more workouts, it’s likely that either Waiters or Smith will be the next Laker. Waiters played briefly with Lakers star LeBron James in Cleveland in 2014-15, but was traded in midseason for, coincidentally, J.R. Smith.
During his playing career, Waiters was represented by Rob Pelinka, then an agent, before Pelinka joined the Lakers front office.
Smith played with James for four seasons in Cleveland, helping the team to the 2016 NBA Championship.