Talen Horton-Tucker will be cleared for contact on Tuesday, Lakers coach Frank Vogel told reporters Monday. While there is not currently a timeline for his return from the broken thumb that has kept him out all season, it is an important milestone in getting him back on the floor. Horton-Tucker will practice on Tuesday.
The third-year wing’s return would go a long way for a Lakers team absolutely depleted by injuries right now. Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza have yet to make their season debuts. Wayne Ellington has only just returned to the floor, and LeBron James is out with an abdominal strain. Horton-Tucker’s defense and ball-handling will be essential for the Lakers as they work their way back to full strength even if the Lakers aren’t quite sure how they’ll use him yet.
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“We’re going to have a period where we have to work him back in,” Vogel said. “That’s always an adjustment period when a guy has been out for a period of time. But he’s definitely one of our rotation players, and we’ll see how that goes when we bring him back.”
In all likelihood, Horton-Tucker will not start right away. His limitations as a shooter make him a questionable fit alongside Russell Westbrook, so the Lakers will probably try to stagger the two of them as much as possible. Still, Horton-Tucker is the fourth-highest-paid player on the team. The Lakers need to get significant production out of him in order to justify the three-year, $27 million deal they gave him this offseason, so when he’s healthy, he should play plenty.
That would be a first for Horton-Tucker. In two seasons, he has played less than 1,400 total minutes. He has tantalized in those minutes, but has largely done so as a luxury piece off the bench. Now the Lakers view him as an essential element of their championship pursuit, and with Monday’s news, we are closer to seeing him potentially fill that role than ever before.