It took several days of waiting as he weighed an offer from the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, but veteran center Thomas Bryant eventually agreed to sign on with the Lakers, less than a week after the team had agreed to a two-year deal with another vet big man, Damian Jones.
At the time, the presumption was that the Lakers had brought in Bryant to be the starter, since he had been a starter for much of his career, in 108 of the 170 games in which he appeared. The fact that he’d rejected a chance to join the Celtics further raised speculation that perhaps the Lakers had promised him a starting, role something he would not get in Boston.
But not so fast. “There will be a fight for that spot,” one source told Heavy Sports.
Though Bryant and Jones figure to play about an equal number of minutes in the middle, with Anthony Davis getting time there as well, the team has made no determination on which player will start. And Jones, in the end, could make more sense as the starter
Thomas Bryant Has More Starting Experience
In the 199 games in which Jones has played in his career, only 74 have been as a starter. His numbers (5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.7 blocks) are hardly impressive. Bryant has better career stats, with 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks, and is the better offensive player.
Jones has been mostly an in-the-paint player and has taken just 43 3-point tries in his career, but he shot the ball well from midrange last year, making 51.9% on 2-pointers from beyond 16 feet (per Basketball-Reference.com). Bryant has a decent career 3-point shooting percentage (35.0%) and is a willing midrange shooter. But playing with LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the starting five, Jones’ focus on defense and rebounding could make him a sensible fit.
Here’s what one Western Conference coach told Heavy Sports:
I would say they’ll settle on starting Jones and playing him 20 minutes or so. He was really good with Sacramento last year, he was just solid up and down. He can rebound, he blocks shots, he stays within himself offensively — if he can keep making the midrange jumper he is going to be a nice weapon for them. Really underrated. But he has to keep knocking down the 16-footer, that was the big difference in his game last year. Thomas Bryant will give them a good option, too, but I like him better off the bench behind Jones.
Health Will be Huge Among Lakers Big Men
Either way, one of the big concerns for the Lakers heading into the season has to be their lack of depth at the center spot. The trio of Jones, Bryant and Davis can all contribute, and when all three are healthy, it has the potential to be an effective rotation.
Problem is, all three have had significant injury issues in recent years. Bryant had ACL surgery in 2021 and played just 27 games last year after playing only 10 the previous year. Jones was the starting center for the Warriors in the 2018-19 season but tore his pectoral muscle 24 games in and was forced out the rest of the year. He bounced through four organizations after that (including the Lakers) before returning to L.A. this year.
Davis, as Lakers fans know all too well, has not been able to stay healthy the past two seasons, appearing in just 76 of the Lakers’ 154 games. If all three are healthy, the Lakers could have their best center situation since JaVale McGee was the starter in 2020. If not, the depth will be severely tested.