Lakers newsletter: What to do at point guard? Start LeBron James?
Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.
With training camp in full gear the weekly newsletter is back and will come to you from all over the world. This week: El Segundo. Next week: China.
Things have changed so much since last season. And through that change, it’s been clear how much easier the start of camp is with a team full of veterans.
The Lakers have experienced both recently, and so has Frank Vogel. His last job as a head coach was with the Orlando Magic, a team that has been rebuilding for even longer than the Lakers. Meanwhile, the Lakers have relied heavily on first-, second- and third-year players for the last four years. This season, finally, they are different.
“Once he puts a play in, he probably shows it to us twice back to back and then we just know what’s going on,” JaVale McGee said. “I feel like that definitely comes with time. Being an older player and just knowing most plays we’ve already seen, they just have a different name on different teams.”
Vogel and the Lakers are spending a lot less time reviewing concepts, which allows them to move on to the rest of the jelling process.
“A huge difference,” Vogel said. “Because everything I’m putting in is not new, they’ve seen most of this stuff and it’s a matter of [getting] on the same page with our terminology and here’s the details of how we’re going to execute it.”
We’ve got plenty to catch up on from the last week. But before we get to that …
Who is the Lakers’ point guard? Is it LeBron James?
Toward the end of practice on Thursday, the Lakers began a scrimmage with two minutes on the clock. The score was set to 99-96 with the purple team — James and Anthony Davis’ team — down.
James was the point guard and Davis was the center.
It’s a lineup the Lakers will undoubtedly use this season, and one with merits. But just how much is James going to play that position? And could he be the Lakers’ starting point guard this season, as has been reported, or will that just be a situational configuration?
“It doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “I do whatever it takes for us to win. So it doesn’t matter. I’m a ballplayer. I’m not a point guard, I’m not a shooting guard, a small forward, power forward or a center. I’m just a ballplayer. You put me on the floor and I can make things happen with whoever is on the floor.”
In scrimmages, Vogel has played some lineups with traditional point guards like Rajon Rondo or Alex Caruso and other lineups without a traditional point guard. One such configuration featured James, Davis and either centers JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard with guards Avery Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. In that lineup, James is the point guard.
Vogel said he’s open to using any of those groups as his primary lineup, adding that James has essentially been in the point guard role throughout his career and this season will be no different. Asked if he had any concerns about James’ energy waning as the primary ball handler, Vogel said he didn’t.
“He’s going to have the green light to defer at any point throughout the game and throughout the season, as he’s done again throughout his whole career, to be the primary playmaker,” Vogel said. “If he’s handled three or four straight times and is winded, he can defer and give it to somebody else to bring it up.”
Now let’s catch up on what else is happening.
Since last we spoke…
—Our Bill Plaschke liked what he saw from LeBron James at media day. He seemed much more familiar with the city and fan base.
—With a somewhat favorable early-season schedule, it’s important for the Lakers to get off to a good start. Our Broderick Turner explores that subject.
—Davis and James started building chemistry the week before training camp opened at a players-only camp in Las Vegas. It struck me that both players placed an emphasis on making room for the other. James made sure to talk about Davis’ leadership ability, while Davis said he tried to take his cues from James early on.
—Kyle Kuzma hasn’t been able to practice yet because of a stress reaction in his left foot, but he spoke with reporters at media day. Our Dan Woike looked at Kuzma’s position as the last man standing from young Lakers cores of yesteryear.
—Practice has focused on defense and physicality. Yes, Vogel wants the players to be physical during practice. The first day of scrimmaging saw plenty of bodies hit the court, including the most critical ones belonging to James and Davis.
—Avery Bradley was the talk of camp on the first few days. So much so that his teammates were being coached to just give up the ball when Bradley was on them. Attempting to penetrate his defense was useless.
—California’s Senate Bill 206 will allow college athletes to profit off their names and likenesses — something the NCAA prohibits. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill on an episode of James’ digital show “The Shop.” I took a look at James’ platform and why this means so much to him.
—Vogel believes that limiting James and other veterans is just common sense. He started doing that this week.
—In trying to determine whether James will play the role of facilitator, the Lakers are sorting through their group of guards. Here’s where things stand with them.
—It’s only been a week, but so far Dwight Howard has impressed his teammates and coaches. He is doing his best to leave his ego out of things.
This time next week, the Lakers will have played two exhibition games and hopefully have some more answers.
Until then ...
Dwight Howard is healthy and playing well enough in training camp that he could push JaVale McGee for the starting job.
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