The Los Angeles Lakers have made their first cut of the preseason, waiving undrafted rookies Michael Frazier II and Robert Upshaw. The team’s roster sat at 19 players heading into the preseason, and must be trimmed to at least 15 by October 26th.
The decision to waive Frazier wasn’t a huge surprise, as the young guard out of Florida had stiff competition for minutes behind D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Kobe Bryant, and potentially Jabari Brown. Frazier was billed as a floor-spacer during the offseason, with the hope that he could bring defensive intensity and knock-down three point shooting to a team that was desperately in need of both.
Unfortunately, Frazier only shot 33 percent from downtown during preseason play, and was just so-so defensively. Ideally, he will find his way onto the Lakers D-league affiliate, the D-Fenders, where he can get more seasoning.
The decision to cut Robert Upshaw loose, on the other hand, is likely to produce quite a bit of frustration from the Lakers fan base. Upshaw was seen as a potential rim protector of the future, with his massive frame and long arms making him something of a shot blocking savant. It appeared that Los Angeles was a perfect fit for him, as he could be tutored by the similarly-skilled Roy Hibbert.
There is no question that Upshaw has the potential to become a very good basketball player, and his numbers in college are certainly eye-popping (4.5 blocks per game). However, his personal struggles are well-documented, including being released from two different college programs. Upshaw’s play in preaseason was also hit-and-miss, with flashes of brilliance being interspersed with clunky performances, including last night’s outing against Portland.
When all was said and done, Upshaw averaged just three rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game, which would be expected out of a stretch four like Ryan Kelly, but not a big man who is needed to anchor the defense.
Part of fans’ ire towards the decision to let Upshaw go will stem from the fact that he was perceived to be battling mediocre big man Robert Sacre for a roster spot, and most saw that as no true contest because Upshaw, although risky, has a much higher ceiling. Fans often don’t factor in chemistry, and from all accounts, Sacre is a tremendous teammate as well as a vocal defensive leader when he plays on the Lakers back line.
Sacre also has the advantage of having a guaranteed contract of nearly $1 million, which the team would have had to pay regardless of whether or not they waived him. Most teams don’t enjoy paying players to not play for them, although Sacre’s contract is a paltry sum to a franchise like the Lakers.
Still, the decision to cut a young player with Upshaw’s talent, raw as he may be, is surprising. The Lakers are in the midst of a rebuild and would appear to need all the up-and-coming young players that they can get. Sacre certainly has a case for the backup center slot as well, and by no means should he be dismissed, but watching Upshaw walk out the door has to be considered a disappointment. His potential seemingly outweighed what Sacre brings to the table, even if the big Canadian is currently the better player. Upshaw’s personal struggles were also somewhat endearing, allowing fans to connect with him on an emotional level. So many people have battled their own personal problems that Upshaw had an instant connection with thousands of fans, a report with those who could sympathize with his struggles.
From here, the hope has to be that Upshaw ends up on the D-Fenders, where he can play plenty of minutes and develop. It has to be noted that the Lakers are taking a definite risk by waiving Upshaw, even if he does end up a D-Fender, as D-League players are not under NBA contract and are therefore eligible to sign with any NBA club. It’s entirely possible that a team with an open roster spot snags Upshaw, hoping to develop him into a piece for their future.
All Lakers fans can do at this point is keep their fingers crossed and hope that doesn’t happen. If Upshaw can develop on the D-Fenders, he may very well find himself back in purple and gold someday.
Most importantly, let’s all hope that Upshaw is able to permanently defeat his demons and fulfill his potential, even if it doesn’t happen as a Laker.