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Lakers’ big challenge: How does Andre Drummond fit, and who’s the odd man out?

Andre Drummond drives against Anthony Davis during a Cavaliers-Lakers game.
Andre Drummond drives against Anthony Davis during a Cavaliers-Lakers game in January. The hope is one day they combine talents to help the Lakers defend their NBA title.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

Andre Drummond’s shoulders fit nearly the entire camera frame, making it easy to imagine the Lakers’ new center hanging from the rim inside Staples Center, the team getting an easy bucket when injuries have made so much look difficult.

Drummond’s first real day as a Laker wasn’t about force. It was about finesse, the veteran center making sure he tiptoed around the obvious questions his arrival has raised.

“I’m just here to help in whatever capacity,” Drummond said Monday during a videoconference. “I’m not here to steal nobody’s shine. I’m here to help this team win as many games as possible.”

It was the tone of Drummond’s first words as a Laker, the new big man making sure to be as vague and general as possible. It’s hard to say the wrong things when you do not say much, and in his first news conference, Drummond left plenty to the imagination.

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We don’t know if he’s been told he’ll be starting. We don’t know when he’ll play his first game. And we don’t know what kind of role he expects to fill on offense.

It was nothing like Dennis Schroder’s first appearance as a Laker last winter, when he proclaimed in his introductory news conference his desire to be the starting point guard. This was Drummond tiptoeing around the margins, trying his best to not offend, focusing on his willingness to defend.

“I’m not here to do anything besides win,” he said.

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Yet the team didn’t add Drummond to sit on the bench. The Lakers are presumably on the cusp of a big change in their starting lineup, adding Drummond to a group that’ll eventually have Anthony Davis and LeBron James once they return from injuries.

Drummond’s arrival likely will force Marc Gasol to the back of the bench and outof the rotation, a stinging demotion for a former All-NBA center and NBA champion.

A season ago, the Lakers ran through competition in the NBA’s bubble, in part, because of their chemistry. JaVale McGee, the starting center all season, saw his role disappear as the team moved deeper into the playoffs. His willingness to accept a reduced role didn’t disrupt the team in chasing its goal.

While there’s no reason to suggest that Gasol won’t also be willing to do what’s best for the team, he can’t be happy about it.

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Still, after the Lakers’ win Sunday night against Orlando, coach Frank Vogel said the team would need Drummond, Gasol and Montrezl Harrell, the reigning sixth man of the year who should be relatively unaffected by Drummond’s presence.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we need all three of them for this playoff push that we’re about to endure,” Vogel said while citing last year’s roster flexibility in the playoffs.

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But the Lakers probably need Drummond most, and his giant smile and the way he spoke about Davis and James means he knows that. He has not played since Feb. 12, working out in Cleveland and traveling to Florida during the break while trying to stay in game shape as the Cavaliers tried to trade him.

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For however long the Lakers’ two stars are out, they need to Drummond to play closer to their equal than someone just along for the ride, happy to be in a Lakers uniform, ready to do whatever to win.

The willingness is nice, but not necessary. The plan should be for Drummond to make a close-to-immediate impact on both sides of the court, helping the Lakers work through a tough patch of schedule in which the team will lack the talent of opponents on most nights while James and Davis are sidelined.

It probably is the plan — the Lakers and Drummond are just being sensitive enough not to say it too loudly.

Drummond closes that gap some in the short term before he eventually can settle into a supporting role when James and Davis return.

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“Our defense is gonna be really crazy when those guys come back and I’m looking forward to it,” Drummond said.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis still out with injuries, Lakers coach Frank Vogel is thrilled to have Andre Drummond on the team.

He’s a Laker because it was the “best fit,” a chance for him to re-establish his worth in the NBA while the Lakers get healthy, and Drummond has a chance to prove he can make a difference on a championship team ahead of free agency this summer.

“Just having that playoff experience but not having success was something I was hungry for,” Drummond said. “I was hungry to get back in the playoffs again and really get a true experience of what it’s like to play on the biggest stage. So being here and being able to have opportunities is really a blessing to take on this role.”

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While there are undoubtedly ripples by adding someone like Drummond, the Lakers couldn’t afford to consider that. They needed to get better and to do so fast.

They can fix hurt feelings. That’s a lot easier than finding players who can make a difference, and whether it has been said or not, the Lakers are counting on Drummond to make one.


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