Any ideas that the Lakers’ starting lineup questions and concerns would be quelled by Anthony Davis’ statement on media day that he would be playing center this season have been rather quickly rebuffed throughout the subsequent week of practice.
The Lakers could still start Davis at center this season, but the team has spent the last week of practice experimenting with various lineups around its three lineup mainstays of Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. DeAndre Jordan spent time with the starters early in training camp alongside Davis in the frontcourt while, on Tuesday, the Lakers used a smallball lineup featuring Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk.
“It’s been different every day,” head coach Frank Vogel said after practice on Tuesday. “We’re trying to play those three guys as much as possible early in camp while they haven’t been playing the games. Just trying to get as many minutes together as we can with that. We look at a different combination every day. There’s a lot to learn about every group that you see whether we’re playing a big alongside AD or playing AD at the five.”
While the team has been experimenting in practice, though, it’s not a strategy Vogel intends on carrying into the regular season.
“I don’t want to get into a situation where we’re changing lineups on a regular basis,” Vogel said. “I think hopefully when we start the season we can settle into our base look and audible time-to-time if needed, but I don’t want to be changing every other game.”
This is a bit of a contradiction from Davis’ comments on media day, saying that there would be situations when he would start at center and other nights when one of DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard would start alongside him.
“There was the expectation and that was discussed, and I expect to play center,” Davis said a week ago. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. Me and (head coach) Frank (Vogel) talked about it a couple of times and that’s the plan. Right now, nothing is set in stone but we want to see what that looks like, and I’m comfortable with that. Obviously, there’s times where Dwight (Howard) or (DeAndre Jordan) might get the start at center depending on games, but for the most part, I think the plan is to go with me playing center.”
There could be some gamesmanship going on from Vogel, who notoriously plays things close to the vest, as he tries to retain some form of leverage heading into the season. Even then, Vogel is right in that it doesn’t seem sustainable to routinely change the starting lineup, moving guys in and out of the rotation — namely one of Howard or Jordan — depending on if Davis starts on any given night.
The good news is that, through training camp and regardless of who has taken the floor in the starting lineup, the Lakers have played with a high level of energy each time they’ve taken to the court.
“I would say even better than what I’d been hoping for,” Vogel said. “It’s really been off the charts. The spirit of pulling in the same direction has been really good. And competing against each other in a healthy, positive way and just really guys talking to each other a lot trying to get on the same page, spacing concepts, defensive schemes, all those types of things.”
The guessing game of who will be in the starting lineup likely won’t end anytime soon. Opening Night is still two weeks away and Vogel revealed on Tuesday that Howard and Jordan would alternate sitting out the next two games, meaning the earliest the Lakers could potentially see a true potential starting lineup would be on Sunday against Phoenix.
But so long that Davis, James and Westbrook are on the court, it’s hard to imagine any lineup for the Lakers not being successful this season. The degree of that success, though, will depend on who fills out the remainder of those spots.