If the Los Angeles Lakers are going to win a championship when the 2019-20 NBA season resumes, they’re going to have to do it without the services of Avery Bradley. One of the leading voices in opposition of restarting the season amid the health and social unrest pervading the country right now, Bradley, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, made it official on Tuesday night that he will not be participating in the Orlando bubble.
This is a blow for the Lakers, though likely not a catastrophic one. Bradley was a starter, yes, and he’s still a tough defender and reliable 3-point shooter on a team in short supply of marksmen, but he can be replaced at least in the aggregate — likely with more minutes for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo.
As for who will actually replace Bradley on the Lakers’ roster, free agent guard J.R. Smith has emerged as the leading candidate, per Wojnarowski. Smith has been rumored as a potential Lakers target all season. His history with LeBron James in Cleveland makes for a natural fit on paper. But basketball isn’t played on paper and Smith hasn’t played since 2018, when the Cavs shut him down in November after he’d played just 11 games before eventually releasing him last summer.
In theory, Smith can be a floor-spacing shooter who at least represents the threat of turning into a microwave scorer in limited minutes, and he does have a ton of playoff experience, but it’s hard to imagine him coming in off the street almost two years removed from his last NBA game just knocking down threes and playing disciplined team defense.
The counter to that might be that no one has played NBA basketball in a long time under these conditions, and Smith likely wouldn’t play much anyway unless he managed to get hot during a few short trial runs. There would seem to be little risk through that lens, but you could argue there would be more upside with a guy like Iman Shumpert, who most closely resembles Bradley’s two-way game and also played with LeBron in Cleveland.
If it doesn’t work out with Smith, other options the Lakers could consider in addition to Shumpert would be Darren Collison (if he has changed his mind from earlier this season and actually wants to play again), Gerald Green or Jamal Crawford, who would fit as an additional shot creator if his game is still where it was the last time we saw him, but would also be redundant with Dion Waiters already on the team as a potential instant-offense option off the bench.
As a long shot, perhaps they could bring back DeMarcus Cousins, who is still weighing his options on whether he wants to try to return this season or just shut it down and get healthy for next season.