The Los Angeles Lakers have two main battles for spots in the starting lineup as training camp rapidly approaches: Center, and point guard.
Before this weekend, however, the only fight that appeared on the horizon was the one to start at point guard. In the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ ACL tear, JaVale McGee looked basically guaranteed to start at the five.
The addition of Dwight Howard may have changed all of that, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (emphasis mine):
According to multiple witnesses to Howard’s workouts this summer, he appears fully athletic and healthy. Motivation and health were the two most critical factors to any team deciding whether to take a chance on him. For the first time in years, Howard seems fully motivated and fully healthy. He will compete with McGee for the starting center job, and he explained to the Lakers that he’s ready to play as many minutes as needed and be a piece to help James and Davis.
Reading between the lines of Charania’s piece, it seems clear that much of it was sourced from Howard’s camp. That means that regardless of what the Lakers have actually said and whether one believes that Howard and McGee will actually battle for the starting job, it at the very least appears clear that Howard plans to go after that role.
That might not be a problem. Competition can sometimes bring out the best in players, and McGee almost surely won’t just be handed the starting job by default anymore. If that gets him to raise his game to ensure he gets the role he desires, that’s great.
The only issue that might arise is if McGee doesn’t get the job he wants, or the amount of minutes he likes. Last year, McGee reportedly didn’t handle it well when Ivica Zubac cut into his playing time and role. Will he have the same reaction if Howard starts to do so?
This all may be a moot point though. McGee was much better last year than Howard was, and may emphatically claim the role he wants. Maybe the combination of a more veteran-laden locker room and coaching staff, and not feeling as though he’s losing his job due to illness will make it so McGee handles any cuts to his playing time a bit better. Maybe his reaction to Zubac cutting into his minutes was overstated.
There is also the small matter that when it counts, it seems to be almost a guarantee that Anthony Davis will be playing more minutes at center than he will in the regular season, so maybe how McGee feels won’t make a difference when the games really matter anyway. Still, this is a situation worth keeping an eye on, and it will be fascinating to see how much of his former effectiveness Howard can rediscover alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and how the rest of the roster and rotation are affected as a result.