When Travis Knight cleaned out his locker and headed for Boston two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were left with a big hole on their roster - a 7-foot hole.
The Lakers want a backup to Shaquille O’Neal, and Gonzaga University product Paul Rogers is among the front-runners. Keith Closs and Seth Sundberg also want the job.
At the FILA Summer Pro League, all three were on the Lakers’ invitation-only squad, all aiming to make good first impressions.
Closs, a lanky 7-3 center out of Central Connecticut, seems the best of the group. Through six games, he has averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and five blocks.
Lakers assistant coach Larry Drew will be among those deciding who is invited to fall camp.
“All three of them are very good big men, but I think right now Keith has shown, maybe, to be a little better than the other guys,” he said.
The Lakers’ main concern with Closs is his strength. He weighs only 212 pounds. Rogers and Sundberg have no such problems. Rogers, the 54th pick in this year’s draft, is 7-0 and 238 pounds; Sundberg is 7-1 and 265 pounds.
Rogers averaged 15 points and 6.3 rebounds during his senior year at Gonzaga. He fractured his right foot during the fourth game of the season and missed the rest of the year. He considers himself more a power forward, although he can play center.
“I think I run the floor well, I’m pretty mobile and I think I can face up and play face basketball,” Rogers said. “I’m also a good team player, I like to pass. I just want to win, really.”
Through five summer league games, he has averaged nine points and four rebounds.
“Paul, I think, has proven he’s capable because he has the size, he has the strength and he knows how to play the game,” Drew said. “He’s really proven to be a good pickup for us.”
Sundberg, struggling in summer league play, is more of a throwback to the prototype NBA center who can bang inside.
Sundberg averaged 7.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and two blocks during his senior year at Hawaii before a lacerated spleen sidelined him during the team’s stretch run. He has averaged 2.2 points, four rebounds and one block in six summer games.
But there’s a lot of summer league left before play shifts to Utah on Aug. 3.
Knight got his big chance when he was moved from benchwarmer to power forward after O’Neal was injured and Elden Campbell became the center.
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