When the Los Angeles Lakers added DeMarcus Cousins to an already loaded roster in July, some of their fans were excited about the prospect of him regaining his All-Star form and becoming a major factor in the team’s success.
Doing so seemed like a tall order though, given that he was coming off a ruptured Achilles and a torn quad in the last 18 months.
Now that Cousins has suffered a torn ACL and will be out for most, if not all of the 2019-20 season, the Lakers are in need of a replacement for him.
They may not need a whole lot out of that replacement in order to win the 2020 NBA championship, as they already possess legit superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a potential budding All-Star in Kyle Kuzma, and capable complementary players such as Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, Javale McGee and Danny Green.
But given that Davis has said he prefers to not play the 5, and that McGee can only play about 20-25 minutes a game due to his asthma, the Lakers do need a serviceable backup 5 who can give them up to 20 minutes a game, as well as be an insurance policy in case Davis or McGee gets injured and misses games.
Such a backup needs to, at a minimum, play defense, control the defensive boards, throw outlet passes and run the floor both defensively and offensively.
At this point in the offseason, the pickings are very slim indeed. But there do seem to be a few options that could fit the bill well for the Purple and Gold.
He may be getting up there in age (he’ll turn 37 shortly before training camp), but he still has some game left in him. In 42 games for the Houston Rockets last season, he averaged 3.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per game in 13.0 minutes.
He may not be able to space the floor, which seems to be a quality most teams look for from the 5 these days, but he’s an old school, defensive-minded center who may be able to hold down the position when he’s on the court.
At 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds, Nene has decent size and girth to physically match up with some of the league’s best centers, including Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic.
He also has solid playoff experience. He’s played in the postseason a dozen times and was a starter on the formidable Denver Nuggets team that played Kobe Bryant’s Lakers to a standstill for most of the 2009 Western Conference Finals.
If this Lakers team picked him up, maybe he could be this year’s version of Tyson Chandler.
2. Kenneth Faried
Faried made a name for himself several years ago as a member of the Nuggets. He became an energy player who was one of the league’s better rebounders by virtue of playing harder than just about anyone else on the court.
Last season he switched from playing the 4 to the 5, despite being undersized for the position at just 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds. But in today’s NBA, where small ball is more of a rule than an exception, Faried could help this Lakers team.
Their roster is currently comprised of finesse players who prefer an uptempo game, but Faried could give them a physicality that would allow them to hold their own when playing against teams like the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets who will likely try to slow down the pace against the Lakers.
He played 37 games in 2018-19 and put up 10.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game in just 19.7 minutes.
3. Marreese Speights
He may not have played in the NBA this past season, but in 2017-18 he was serviceable for the Orlando Magic, averaging 7.7 points and 2.6 rebounds a game in 13.0 minutes. His coach that season was Frank Vogel, the Lakers’ new head coach.
In fact, Vogel recently got an up-close-and-personal look at what Speights may have to offer this upcoming season.
Marreese Speights held a free-agent workout for NBA teams today in Las Vegas. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel was in attendance along with staffers from several other teams. Last year in China, Speights averaged 22.7 points, 7.5 boards and 3.1 threes (while shooting 36% from deep).
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 10, 2019
Speights isn’t the greatest rebounder or defender in the world, but he does have one indisputable skill that can help the Lakers. He is a solid 3-point shooter and has made 37.2 percent of his attempts in his last three seasons in the NBA.
He also has deep playoff experience. He played in the NBA Finals in both 2015 and 2016 for the Golden State Warriors, winning it all in 2015 against James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. That won’t exactly hurt a team that is looking to hoist its 17th Larry O’Brien trophy, and its first in nearly a decade, next June.