Two of the primary points of discussion about the Lakers after their offseason overhaul this summer have been 1) who will start alongside Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, and 2) how much time will Davis spend at the center position?
During an appearance on Spectrum SportsNet’s “Lakeshow” podcast, head coach Frank Vogel didn’t exactly provide clarity on the answers to those questions, but he had a pretty good excuse for not doing so. According to him, the Lakers themselves haven’t even decided for certain yet who their starters will be:
How many (possible starting) combinations on your whiteboard?
“It’s not two or three. There really is a vast array, and no decisions have been made. People ask me all the time, ‘are we gonna start AD at the 5? Are we gonna play with two bigs like we did two years ago? What’s it gonna look like?’ And the honest answer is that we don’t know yet. We’re gonna watch these guys play together in camp, measure the pros and cons of certain lineups, and find a lineup that we think is going to help us get off to a strong start.”
To some degree this is surely coachspeak, and part of the balance between ego massaging and creating a culture of competition that Vogel excels at maintaining. It is extremely unlikely that Vogel doesn’t have some idea of which way he’ll ultimately go with the starting unit (beyond the obvious inclusions of James, Davis and Westbrook).
Still, it’s wise for Vogel to not commit to something now. For one, as he noted, they haven’t seen these guys all together yet. The coaching staff and front office can have theories, but they don’t exactly know how everyone best fits in specific lineups, or what shape everyone will report to training camp in.
For example, if Trevor Ariza looks ready for a vintage-level season and is prepared to guard the tougher forward spot to leave James someone to play free safety off of, maybe that entices Vogel to go small with Davis at center. Or if Dwight Howard appears primed to pick up where he left off with the Lakers, then maybe he gets the starting 5 spot, with Davis sliding to the 4. And Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore and others will surely be given the opportunity to seize the starting shooting guard spot, even if it’s fair to guess that Vogel is probably leaning Bazemore given his defensive mindset and what the Lakers lost on the perimeter in free agency.
But we won’t get the answers for certain until the first preseason game, and even then, Vogel will likely claim (perhaps honestly!) that others will still have a chance to earn a place among the starters. Still, for now, it’s smart for him to not tip his hand, and to give everyone an honest shot to compete for their place in the rotation. Or at the very least, to make them feel like they got one, so that if they end up a slot lower than they’d prefer, they at minimum feel they got a fair shake.