The Los Angeles Lakers don’t even begin training camp for several weeks, so it’s not exactly surprising that head coach Luke Walton has not decided on the team’s starting lineup (or at the very least is unwilling to divulge it). Still, given that the Lakers just gave veteran forward Luol Deng a four-year deal worth approximately $72 million, it would seem safe to assume he’s going to start, right?
“You can pencil in whoever you want [to the starting lineup], I don’t have anyone penciled in right now,” Walton said when asked whether or not he was willing to declare Deng the starter. “Everyone earns his spot. You come into camp, you compete against other players, you respect your teammates, but whoever outplays the next guy in line, that’s who gets to start.”
Los Angeles doesn’t have a ton of depth this season, except for at small forward. Deng played his best minutes at the four last year, but he’s been a wing for the majority of his career and would seem most likely to start at the three. However, the Lakers did just take Brandon Ingram second overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, and he’ll need time to develop as well.
The whole situation leaves Walton with an interesting dilemma. Does he start Deng over Ingram? Is there any scenario where Ingram plays well enough in training camp to actually start over Deng? Could Walton start both, with Deng either playing the four (and moving Julius Randle to the bench) or Ingram playing the two (with Clarkson moving to the reserves)? Could Yi Jianlian displace both as a super-sized three? (No, just making sure you’re still paying attention)
The fact there is even a chance Ingram could start over Deng does emphasize the difference between Walton and the Lakers’ previous head coach, Byron Scott. Ingram could have been doing windmill dunks from the three-point line during training camp, and forget penciling in Deng, Scott would have likely told any reporter asking to get their tattoo gun. This isn’t just to take a pot shot at Scott, it’s also worth noting as more evidence of the new direction the Lakers seem to be heading as a franchise.
No matter who starts, how the Lakers’ new head coach balances the minutes between Deng and Ingram will certainly be one of the more interesting story lines to watch this season. The most likely scenario would seem to be the most obvious (Deng starting over Ingram at small forward), but we shouldn’t pencil, pen, or tattoo it in just yet.