In final games, Lakers keep evaluating their role players for next season – Daily Breeze



LOS ANGELES — Every minute is a job interview. Mason Jones knows this, which might be why he flung himself into the courtside seats more than once on Friday night – chasing every loose ball like his future depended on it.

It just might.

The second-runner up for G League MVP had just played 43 minutes the night before as the South Bay Lakers were eliminated by just two points from the playoffs. Jones had scored a team-high 33 points, and was disappointed to lose. But he acknowledged that friends had pointed that defeat as “a blessing in disguise,” allowing the 6-foot-4 guard to get a sniff in the Lakers’ final games.

“I wanted to showcase my talents the last couple of games,” he said. “And being able to really take advantage of this home game as a Laker.”

The results of these last few games don’t matter at all for the Lakers (32-49), except for perhaps the cosmetic element of avoiding a 50-loss season. But the evaluation within actually might matter a lot, as the franchise faces tough options for next season to reshape their roster into an actual contender.

Traditionally, the Lakers universe tends to revolve around the stars. Blockbuster players are viewed as what can make or break the team. But one of the lessons of this season’s failures: The Devil might just be in the details.

The Lakers’ decisions around the margins will be just as important (if not moreso) than how they manage their biggest names. Assembling a competent supporting cast – given financial constraints and a market that looks underwhelming – could be even more difficult that last season, so the Lakers are taking a closer look at the players they already have in house.

Stanley Johnson started his 26th game for the Lakers on Friday night, playing 47 games overall with humble stat lines of 6.2 points and 3 rebounds per game. He has a team option for next season, which he admitted he couldn’t be sure the Lakers are willing to exercise.

But the Fullerton native pledged he would be working this summer as if he were coming back to the franchise. After playing out three 10-day contracts before getting signed in January, Johnson wants a shot at a full offseason going into next year.

“I understand how much being around and being one with your teammates, even if you can’t physically be in the gym with them, means a lot and goes a long way,” he said. “As you guys see without a lot of practice time and guys out, it’s hard to put it together. Maybe in the summertime, we can get together.”

Beyond LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, there are just a handful of contracts which extend to next season. Talen Horton-Tucker is on the books for two more years; Kendrick Nunn is up for one more. Austin Reaves and Johnson both have team options for next season, although since Reaves is on his rookie contract, he could be under team control for years.

Many others could scatter to the winds. Many of the seven remaining players on minimum contracts don’t seem like strong candidates to return, such as Kent Bazemore or Wayne Ellington. Though the Lakers would like Malik Monk back, they can’t pay him more than the taxpayer’s mid-level exception, just over $6 million which might not be enough to retain him.

So players who might fall in the gray area, like 25-year-old Wenyen Gabriel, are getting a stronger look. Is there still development for him? Should the Lakers keep him? When the team converted his contract, waiving Trevor Ariza to do so, Gabriel saw it as a sign of faith.

“Obviously we didn’t get a lot of wins this month and we obviously wish we could have won more,” he said. “But I played with a lot of energy, and I feel I showed some things – some tools that the front office thinks can help the next following season. So it’s just them believing in my potential.”



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