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Should the Lakers Sign Dion Waiters or J.R. Smith?

Or neither? Each shooting guard brings a lot of the same to the table—including outrageous meme potential. But is that what L.A. needs?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Lakers need someone else. Someone who can facilitate the offense, drain a bucket or four, and offer a little relief to LeBron James, who at 35 is handling the ball more than he ever has before. This has been the case all season, but with the trade deadline long in the past, L.A.’s last option is to sift through the leftovers on the buyout market. After waiving Troy Daniels on Sunday to create an open roster spot, the Lakers are reportedly holding workouts for two guards this week: Dion Waiters, who met with the team Monday and had an “impressive showing,” and J.R. Smith.

There is no one like Smith or like Waiters, perhaps except for each other. Both are talented but mercurial spotty role players whose celebrity outgrew their skill sets long ago. Off the court, they’re legends: Smith once threw soup at an assistant coach. Waiters called himself a top-four shooting guard in the league knowing damn well Jimmy Butler and CJ McCollum exist. Or maybe he forgot—another trait Smith and Waiters share is an affection for weed, which has also played into their off-court celebrity. Waiters was suspended for taking a THC gummy on a flight earlier this season, and Smith was suspended in 2013 after testing positive for marijuana. He’s since lobbied for legalization in New York.

Crucial contributors at their best who actively cause losses at their worst, Smith and Waiters can promise only one constant: entertainment. The good times are enough to sell L.A. on a workout, but the bad times are the reason neither is employed in March. On the court, they’d plug different holes: Smith adds pure shooting and more size, while Waiters is better on the ball. Smith may be rusty—he hasn’t played since November 2018—but it’s not like Waiters was putting in consistent work in Miami before he was traded to the Grizzlies (and waived by them) in February. Thanks to a bevy of suspensions and health complications, he played three games for Miami this season.

The Lakers will most likely sign one of the two. Players who may have previously been considered options aren’t any longer: Moe Harkless wasn’t bought out before the deadline; Darren Collison seems content to stay retired, at least for this season; Reggie Jackson signed with the Clippers; Marvin Williams went to Milwaukee, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went to Dallas. Plus, general manager Rob Pelinka is partial to memeable players.

Statistically, Smith and Waiters are similar. In fact, both average exactly 16.7 points per 36 minutes over their careers. Smith’s a more accurate 3-point shooter and has a better track record of protecting the ball, while Waiters has a slight advantage in assists. Here’s the exact breakdown, per 36 minutes:

Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith (Per 36 Minutes)

Player Points Assists Rebounds FG% 3PT% Turnovers
Player Points Assists Rebounds FG% 3PT% Turnovers
Dion Waiters 16.7 3.5 3.4 41.2 34.8 2.3
J.R. Smith 16.7 2.9 4.2 41.9 37.3 1.8

There is upside to both, but the decision should come down to who is the smallest risk factor. That’s not to discount the contributions each has made: Waiters was the people’s champion during the 2016-17 season—the Heat went 30-11 after beginning the season 11-30—and convinced Pat Riley to sign him to a four-year, $52 million contract (which instantly soured). Smith is a former Sixth Man of the Year, won a championship with LeBron in Cleveland, and influenced multiple organizations for the better. Mostly.

The list of cons to signing Waiters is full of injuries and complaints. He was unnecessarily loud about wanting more playing time in Oklahoma City and in Miami, and on multiple occasions created the kind of tension only superstars are allowed. He’s been to the playoffs only once in his eight-year career and was suspended three times this season by the Heat (for “conduct detrimental to the team,” for the weed gummies incident, and for posting a picture on Instagram of himself on a boat while he was supposed to be out “sick”). Over the three seasons prior to 2019-20, Waiters averaged just 40 games. Then there’s Smith, whose worst moment was enough to put a pause on his career. In Game 1 of the 2018 Finals, Smith forgot the score during the closing seconds, held on to the ball, and essentially cost the Cavs the game. Unfortunately, his career low happened 2 feet from LeBron:

It’s also notable that LeBron once approved a trade in 2015 that shipped Waiters away from Cleveland to bring Smith in. The two have a closer relationship than he and Waiters do, and friendship has proved to be a huge factor for teams selecting LeBron’s teammates in the past. It’s important to stay realistic with any player brought on this late, but L.A. seems to believe Smith or Waiters could make enough of a difference to sign one of the out-of-commission guards. Two former LeBron teammates will enter the gym. One will leave a Laker, the other will hopefully not waste the trip to L.A. and visit a dispensary.