Few NBA teams ever actually need a 15th man. It’s a roster spot designed to stash a young player or absorb a contract. Before this season, they technically couldn’t even be used on a healthy roster. Teams could only have 13 active players on game nights. But the Los Angeles Lakers have only 14 rostered players. Four of them — LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Jared Dudley — are too injured to contribute at the moment.
A 15th player would provide meaningful depth, and now that the pro-rated minimum salary has dropped low enough for them to actually sign one, it’s worth exploring who they might actually pursue. Before we dive in, it should be noted that the buyout market is nearing its conclusion. Any player currently on an NBA roster would only be eligible to play in the postseason for another team if he is bought out by April 9, this Friday. For the most part, last-minute buyouts are a rarity. We will touch on a possible exception, but for the most part, everyone on this list is available right now. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
- Quinn Cook: We’re starting with the familiar faces here, and none is more familiar than Cook, who was a part of last season’s championship run and spent the early portion of the season in Los Angeles. He was waived before his contract guaranteed in order to give the Lakers buyout market flexibility that they ultimately didn’t need. Cook spent two 10-day contracts in Cleveland but is again in need of employment. His shooting and ball-handling would be helpful now, with James still out, but his real value would come as a beloved locker room presence even after LeBron returns. Cook may not have contributed much on the floor over the past two seasons, but his teammates love him. That counts for something.
- Avery Bradley: Unlike Cook, Bradley actually helped the Lakers on the floor last season, and he was rewarded for it with a nice contract from the Miami Heat. They went on to trade him to the Houston Rockets, who have yet to buy him out. They probably won’t, and maybe it’s for the best. Bradley hasn’t looked like his old self this season, and the Lakers aren’t exactly hurting for defense right now. His improved shooting toward the end of the pre-bubble season would’ve made him a possible fit, though, and he obviously comes with schematic comfort.
- Troy Daniels: The Lakers waived Daniels last season, but could really use his sharpshooting right about now. They actually have the minutes to accommodate him this time around, and their defensive depth could cover for him even more than it did a year ago. Daniels hasn’t played this season, though, and the league doesn’t seem interested in giving him another shot.
- Ben McLemore: Here’s the shooter the Lakers are most likely to target. McLemore shot 40 percent on over six 3-point attempts per game last season in Houston, and his decline this season makes sense with James Harden gone. LeBron James could fill in nicely as the elite ball-handler setting him up, and the Lakers are one of the few teams that could protect him defensively. In a perfect world, McLemore is the signing.
- Austin Rivers: Rivers has been linked to the Bucks, but no deal has materialized. With Jeff Teague already signing in Milwaukee, he may be worried about his role in Milwaukee. The Lakers would present similar uncertainty when James returns, but until then, there’s a ball-handling vacuum Rivers could help fill, and his defense would be welcome. His inconsistent shooting would probably doom him on the healthy version of the team, though, and that probably knocks him out of the running here.
- Shabazz Napier: LeBron famously declared his belief in Napier leading into the 2014 NBA Draft, and the Heat traded up to get him in the hopes of pairing the two. Then James went home to Ohio, and the two never played together. Well, now might be the time to rectify that. Napier’s size limits his defensive upside and he’s only rarely served as a traditional point guard, but he has the most scoring upside of anyone on this list. Play Napier enough minutes for five straight games and he’ll get you 25 in one of them. Considering how little offense the Lakers have right now, that’s not the worst option.
- Glenn Robinson III: The Lakers were interested in Robinson during the offseason, but he chose the Kings hoping to play more minutes on a lottery team. It didn’t work out, and now he’s available. Might the Lakers want to revisit Robinson? He doesn’t fit an immediate need, but 3-and-D wings hardly grow on trees. Getting an extra in the building and potentially keeping him next season if the roster thins out might make some sense.
- Damian Jones: The Lakers might’ve kept Jones following his two 10-day contracts had they not signed Andre Drummond. Obviously, they aren’t going to carry four centers, but on the off chance one of their bigs gets hurt, or Marc Gasol proves unwilling to accept a reduced role, it’s nice knowing that a playable center with experience on the team might be out there for an emergency. The operative word here is might. Jones is currently playing a 10-day contract for the Kings. They might simply re-sign him afterward and keep him off of the market.
- Kyle Korver: No, it’s not happening, but it’s a fun fantasy. Korver is a former teammate of LeBron’s and he played for a contender in Milwaukee last season. His playing days are probably over, but hey, it’s worth a phone call at least. Even at his age, few human beings can shoot as well as he does.
- JR Smith and Dion Waiters: Neither performed particularly well in brief stints with the Lakers in the bubble, but they fall under the “familiar faces” category. The Lakers know them. If they think either can provide a brief spark, they could give one of them a second chance in purple and gold. It’s extraordinarily unlikely, but stranger things have happened.