Luke Walton finds himself in a tricky spot. Three of his most productive players play the same position. LeBron James isn’t coming off the bench, which leaves Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram vying for the other starting forward role.
We’ve heard Ingram’s stance on what he thinks his role should be, and after the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night, it was time for Kuzma to give his thoughts on the matter.
He’s confident, too, but hasn’t quite gotten the opportunity he’s looking for, as he told Bill Oram of The Athletic.
“I’ve never been a full-time starter,” Kuzma said. “I’ve always been starting when somebody’s injured or suspended. It’s never been like, ‘Kuz you’re the clear-cut guy.’ ”
Remember, last year, the Lakers were in a somewhat similar spot but with Julius Randle there instead of James. Fortunately for that rotation, Randle was comfortable with (and pretty good at) playing as a small-ball center. James doesn’t want to put his body through that type of wear and tear as often, so the math becomes complicated.
Still, Kuzma remains adamant about the role he thinks he can fulfill if given the consistent opportunity.
“Of course, everybody wants to be a starter and I feel like I’m a starter in this league, but I can’t necessarily control that,” Kuzma said. “I’m just a player. But we’ll see what happens.”
Based on all the ways Walton has tried to use him, it would seem Walton agrees with Kuzma’s assessment.
Think about this: Thus far, Kuzma has been used as a small-ball five and gone all the way up to shooting guard in some lineups. Hell, at a couple points Monday night, he brought the ball up the court, though make no mistake, he’s no point guard. The Lakers know they have to get him on the court somehow, it just becomes difficult given the other mouths to feed at his position.
A quick note on starting, coming off the bench, finishing and everything in between, too. It’s nice to envision an NBA in which these things don’t matter to players, but they do. There are obvious exceptions (Manu Ginobili and Lamar Odom, for example), but for the most part, the title of “starter” matters to guys, especially when they’re as young as Ingram and Kuzma.
We’ll see if Walton sticks with the weird starting lineup he used Monday night to continue to get Kuzma the opportunity to start moving forward. If he does change things up, we’ll see how whoever gets moved back to the bench handles that kind of thing. More importantly than anything, though, is that the Lakers turn these close calls into wins as soon as they can.
Yes, Kuzma and Ingram are merely answering questions asked to them about their roles, but everyone’s focus has to be on doing what’s best for the team, even if it means a lesser role while these things get figured out.