The Los Angeles Lakers went into this year’s training camp with a 19-man roster and for the first time in years, there is enough talent on the roster to make positional battles in the preseason worth tuning into.
Whether it’s Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart, there are a number of starting spots up for grabs ahead of the regular season opener on Oct. 18.
However, while it might be an interesting for fans to watch unfold, Lakers head coach Luke Walton doesn’t want who starts and who doesn’t to be something that affects the locker room.
“One of our themes this year is it doesn’t matter who’s starting,” Walton said. “Everyone is going to play a role, everyone is going to help us win. Everyone is going to finish games for us depending on how games are going.”
That’s a nice sentiment, but the real question that matters is whether that mindset about roles has been communicated to the roster. Walton says it has.
”Not a lot, but we’ve brought it up,” Waltons said. “Part of our messaging has been about the strength of our team being in believing in our team and playing for one another, and with that comes always supporting and rooting for your guy to do well, going at him in practice to make him better and cheering for him when he’s out on the court.”
One of the few constants in Walton’s tenure with Lakers has been his philosophy on who finishes games. Of course, James will likely close most, if not all of the games games he’s available for, but beyond that Walton likes to keep units that are clicking on the floor for as long he possibly can. To do so, he needs players to understand that their personal desires about their role will come second to what’s best for the team.
“If players would rather start that’s fine, but we’re not going to make the decisions based on if they’d rather start or not, we’re going to make the decision on what we feel is best for the team,” Walton said. “Ultimately, however they feel, their main objective needs to be what the team is doing and trying to succeed.”
Walton has used a different starting lineup in each of the Lakers’ four preseason games so far but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t decided on his starters yet.
When available, Rondo, LeBron James, Brandon Ingram and JaVale McGee have started every game in the preseason. Meanwhile, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma have started two games apiece.
Given that information, one can make an educated guess that the starters on opening night, barring injury, will be Rondo, Caldwell-Pope or Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James and JaVale McGee.
Lonzo Ball deserves to be in that conversation as well, but there’s also a possibility he spends at least part of the season coming off of the bench, in part because of his lengthy rehab and because Rondo has looked like a starter in preseason play, although his role remains publicly undetermined.
The decisions Walton makes with his roster will be a hot topic among fans throughout the season, but if Walton’s message gets through to his locker room, it won’t matter what anyone else thinks.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.