Trevor Ariza had an arthroscopic debridement procedure performed on his right ankle Wednesday, the Lakers announced. The veteran forward will be re-evaluated in eight weeks. Ariza has not played for the Lakers this preseason, and with the regular season quickly approaching, they will have to adjust their forward rotation to factor in his absence.
That will be no easy task. The Lakers are an extremely guard heavy team. Eight of the 14 players currently on the roster are guards, and two more are centers. That leaves them with only four players most would classify as forwards: Ariza, who is out, Anthony Davis, whom many expect to play center this season to give the Lakers extra spacing alongside Russell Westbrook, and the combination of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. With Ariza out, the Lakers are going to need more forward minutes out of those remaining forwards. That likely means either pushing Anthony into an expanded role which could hurt them defensively, or playing Davis more alongside a traditional center, which would compromise the team’s spacing.
A possible compromise could be revisiting the 15th slot on their roster. Most reports have indicated that the Lakers plan to carry only 14 players into the regular season in order to both maximize in-season flexibility and save money against the luxury tax, but with Ariza out and another spot devoted to Austin Reaves, an undrafted rookie unlikely to contribute, the Lakers may need to reconsider and sign another veteran. They worked out veteran forward James Ennis earlier in the offseason, and Wes Matthews, who was on the team last season, is still available on the open market.
Neither solution is ideal, but the Lakers don’t have many options at this stage of the offseason. The addition of Westbrook limited their payroll flexibility, so only five players on the roster are making more than the minimum. They signed Ariza for the minimum hoping that he would be able to outperform that contract, but at 36 years old, there was always a degree of risk involved in his addition. This injury is proof of that.
The Lakers open their season on Oct. 19 against the Golden State Warriors. That gives them less than two weeks to come up with an alternative plan at forward. The Lakers surely hoped for a less eventful opening stretch after last season was ruined by injuries, but with Ariza already down, the pressure on the rest of the roster has only grown.