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Lakers’ guards working on ways to mesh with LeBron James

Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo and forward LeBron James celebrate during a game last season.
Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo and forward LeBron James will look to improve upon last season.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo pulled aside Avery Bradley during practice recently and asked that Bradley make sure to guard him every time down the court. Bradley’s defense has turned heads during Lakers training camp, and Rondo wanted to the two of them to sharpen each other.

“That has to be everybody’s mentality,” Bradley said. “Because we are a team and we want to push each other and we want to bring the best out of each other every single day.”

Bradley, Rondo, Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook are among a group of Lakers guards vying for playing time this season. Also in the mix are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Troy Daniels and two-way player Zach Norvell. Their roles aren’t defined yet and they might not be for much of the season. Whatever guards the Lakers play when LeBron James is on the floor will have to fit with the superstar forward who often assumes ball-handling responsibilities.

“We’re gonna try to use all of them,” coach Frank Vogel said of his backcourt. “We have great depth. All these guys are able to come in and perform in big roles right now. There’s not a lot of guys, young guys, 20-year-olds or 18-year-olds, where we’re gonna have to say ‘we’re gonna have to wait on this guy’ or anything. These guys can all produce right now, so it’s gonna make my job difficult when it comes to divvying out minutes.”

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Last season the Lakers started Rondo and Lonzo Ball at point guard. Caldwell-Pope is a returning shooting guard who played 82 games while sharing time with Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. With Ball, Ingram and Hart sent to New Orleans as part of the trade to acquire Anthony Davis, the Lakers needed to revamp their backcourt.

They signed Bradley, Cook and Daniels in free agency, and gave Caruso his first guaranteed contract after two seasons as a two-way player who split time with the team’s G League affiliate.

Bradley, Caldwell-Pope and Daniels traditionally have been shooting guards. Rondo, Caruso and Cook have spent more time as point guards, though Cook might be the best shooter of the group.

Vogel envisions all of them playing on and off the ball.

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LeBron James sat out practice Monday, but that was by design. Lakers coach Frank Vogel wants to play it “smart” with the workloads of veteran players.

“Rajon Rondo’s going to be a different player off the basketball than he’s been in his career,” Vogel said, then praised assistant Jason Kidd, highlighting the Hall of Fame point guard’s improved shooting over his career. Kidd ranks 10th with 1,988 three-pointers.

“Jason Kidd as a model of being a non-shooter early in his career ... is a great model to be for Rajon,” Vogel said. “He [Rondo] shot 36% from the three-point line the last four years. That’s above average.”

Said Caruso: “I’ve worked on-ball with Rondo, off-ball with Rondo. On-ball with Quinn, off-ball with Quinn. Same thing with Avery. And Bron’s been out the last couple days, but I’m sure it’d be the same way. It’s been a good dosage of both. I think I’m a really diverse player, I think I can do both. I think it just benefits me in the long run.”

It’s all with an eye toward that one superstar who excels with the ball in his hands.

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James didn’t participate in the Lakers’ scrimmage Tuesday and was held out of Monday morning’s practice. That’s given the rest of the guards time to work with each other. But ultimately how they work with James will be paramount.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who do a bunch of different things really well,” Caruso said. “LeBron just happens to do all of them really well. So whatever position he’s playing, whether it’s the one, the two, the three, the four, the five in our lineups, you kind of just play off of it.”


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