On Wednesday, reports originating out of Miami that would later be confirmed by official team-related social media accounts stated that Los Angeles Lakers rookie Josh Hart had suffered a small fracture in his left hand and would be examined in LA on Thursday to make a determination on whether the injury required surgery.
Only six weeks remain in the 2017-18 NBA season, and the Lakers don't need any more game footage on Hart to evaluate the type of player he is. Excluding Channing Frye, who is 1/1 on three-pointers this season, Hart is the Lakers' best long range shooter with 39.7 percent accuracy from beyond the three-point line.
The rookie out of Villanova, though, is best known for his defensive abilities and strong rebounding instincts. While the injury is not ideal, Hart's value to the Lakers moving forward is a known commodity. And so, if surgery is deemed to be the best coarse of action, 6-8 weeks on the sidelines would be expected with no reason to rush the kid back a week or two early.
While a cloud hangs over the severity of Hart's injury and the timeline for recovery is yet to be determined, the injury leaves the Lakers a bit short on bodies at the small forward position. Corey Brewer, who would have expected to earn minutes with Hart out, agreed to a buyout of his contract that went official on Wednesday, so he will not be available to play on Thursday.
Luckily, Lonzo Ball has played two games and looked sharp in those two appearances. On Monday in Atlanta, Ball played 24 minutes, made all four of his shots, hit a trio of three-pointers, grabbed seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in a lopsided victory for the Lakers.
Likely, Ball will return to the starting lineup in place of Hart on Thursday with his minutes restriction increasing from the 24 minutes he played in Atlanta. With Lakers coach Luke Walton enjoying the combination of Isaiah Thomas and Ball in the back court, Walton may call on Thomas and Ball to spend more time on the floor together, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope playing spot minutes behind Brandon Ingram.
In addition, Brewer's departure opened up a second extra roster spot, so the team will likely look for a small forward to come in on a 10-day contract and possibly earn minutes in the even that the team is in foul trouble or succumbs to another injury. With two open roster spots, giving out a 10-day contract immediately would be a logical next step.
Of course, Walton could call on Luol Deng to be available on the bench and promise the veteran forward minutes. Deng played in Miami from 2014-16, so Thursday could even feel like a bit of a throwback game.
Sadly, calling on Deng wouldn't make sense at this stage. With two years left on his contract after the 2017-18 season, the team has made it clear that Deng has no future playing with the team. The 32-year-old may technically be available to play, traveling with the team, practicing and even cashing a paycheck from the Lakers, but playing Deng for any amount of minutes would ultimatley give minutes to a player that is not part of the future of the team and, thus, take away minutes from a player that could develop with that time on the floor.
Alternatively, the Lakers could also call on rookie Kyle Kuzma to play spot minutes at small forward. Kuzma often slid down to that role with varying levels of success early in the season when Walton attempted to juggle minutes for Kuzma, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
One way or another, Walton and the Lakers will find a way to plug in the gap left by Hart's injury, regardless of how long the rookie is out. If he undergoes surgery, however, one would imagine Hart's season is over.