Most of positional battles for the Los Angeles Lakers heading into training camp are fairly cut and dry. Barring a shocking twist, we know who will start at center (JaVale McGee), the two forward spots (LeBron James and Brandon Ingram), and point guard seems all-but-destined to go to Lonzo Ball as long as he’s healthy.
The shooting guard battle between Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart, however, will be one to watch. While Caldwell-Pope will likely have the edge over Hart due to veteran experience and Hart fitting in more seamlessly than Caldwell-Pope does with the likely bench unit, there is at least a chance that Hart’s combination of long-term upside and improvements over the summer are enough to give him an edge.
But no matter what happens, Hart and Caldwell-Pope’s battle for the starting spot will likely be the most contentious one of training camp, even if it seems it’s starting earlier than that.
Thanks to Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum Sportsnet’s interview with Caldwell-Pope, we now know that the two shooting guards are already playing one-on-one at the facility, and Caldwell-Pope’s praise for Hart after their session shows that this battle will be one of friendly competition by two players who clearly respect each other, even if they both probably want the same starting spot (via Spectrum Sportsnet’s):
”Josh has gotten better from last year, I can tell. He’s been working a lot, so we’re out here having fun with him,” Caldwell-Pope said.
Caldwell-Pope’s quote shows a few things. For one, it demonstrates that he’s exactly the type of veteran the Lakers should want around their young core: One who will support, encourage and praise them, while simultaneously always pushing them to get better by no-holds-barred competing with them.
Hart already showed how much he’s improved in Las Vegas Summer League, but dominating almost-NBA players is a lot different from competing against actual NBA players. Hart going one-on-one with Caldwell-Pope is a chance to do the latter.
Since being hired, Lakers head coach Luke Walton has consistently preached the benefits of having open competition for spots, and letting the best man earn the role they’re a fit for.
Hart and Caldwell-Pope are going to be the latest test case for that philosophy, and whoever gets the starting spot, if the competition makes both of them better heading into training camp, then the Lakers will reap the benefits. And down the line, both players will as well.
All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.