It’s about fit more than talent with the Lakers’ lineup

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham sits at a table listening to a reporter's question during media day.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham has thus far been elusive when asked about the Lakers’ potential starting lineup as training camp opened Tuesday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike from the L.A. Times with another edition of the Lakers newsletter, my chance to speak directly to you about what’s on my mind and you can’t do a thing about it. If I want to complain about the new Chipotle steak, I could. Yet I would never complain about Chipotle, but again, it’s my newsletter. You just have to deal (my order is impeccable — burrito bowl, white rice, extra veggies, no beans, half sofritas, half barbacoa with mild and medium salsa and a little cheese — try it).

Anyway, there’s no need to spend too much time on my favorite lunch options. Instead, we’ve got some actual basketball to talk about because training camp is underway.


So let’s start with one of the easiest questions, mostly because it’ll tell us a lot about where things are inside of coach Darvin Ham’s head.

Gotta be startin’ someone

For some reason, it’s a question that NBA head coaches hate answering more than any other — who’s starting?

In my time covering the league, it’s gone from this benign piece of housekeeping for reporters pregame to some important part of strategic weaponry that needs to be shrouded in secrecy until 45 minutes before tipoff.

In a time when everybody knows your plays, your percentages and your tendencies, maybe holding on to this last piece of information feels like one of the advantages a coach can actually grab onto. It sort of is what It is.

Now, it’s a little different for Darvin Ham — who has clearly been reluctant to share his thoughts on his future starting five.

For starters (not the actual ones), Ham has only two days’ worth of practice into seeing his roster in action, with injuries (Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr.) and visa issues (Dennis Schroder) keeping some options out of play.

Secondly, Ham mostly shut down the big question initially, which is that Russell Westbrook is almost certainly going to remain a starter provided he adapts to Ham’s system. There’s the possibility for an open point-guard competition, but so much of Ham’s words and energy this offseason have been aimed at boosting Westbrook back up provided he’s still on the team. A week into training camp, he is, and Ham hasn’t said anything to imply that Westbrook could be headed for a bench role to start the year.

Thirdly, there’s the question of how the Lakers actually want to play. Do they want to play small with Anthony Davis at center? It’s regarded by most league insiders as the team’s best option. What about pairing him with a more traditional center? And is that center Damian Jones or Thomas Bryant?

It’s the same in the backcourt and on the wings. Is LeBron James going to guard threes or fours, does the team want to start small with multiple point guards? Can any of their shooting guards effectively defend small forwards?

These have to be the questions Ham and his staff are asking themselves as they watch the team go through the early days of camp, a new coach learning his new team while trying to unlock its best lineups. And it’s important that a starting lineup, ultimately, isn’t any more or less important than any other grouping he’s trying to cook up.


“For me,” Ham said this week, “it’s about minutes.”

Lastly, it’s sort of a no-win question for him to answer at this point. There’s no real need to commit other than to try to reset some stability after last year’s 41-lineups salute — the team shuffling players in and out because of injuries and the pandemic while losing all season. While, ideally, we’d be able to look at the Lakers roster and pick out the five best players, it’s not that simple with this group. The Lakers need to find the best fits — not necessarily the most talent — to play with James, Davis and Westbrook. And for Ham, there’s not enough information right now to plant any flags other than with his stars.

Ham has been really open about almost everything else — openly talking about the Lakers’ offensive spacing concepts and their defensive principles in great detail. It makes you think that he’ll be the kind of coach that won’t hold back when he’s sure of what he’s doing.

But when it comes to starters in this moment, no one can say for sure what the Lakers or Ham are thinking (or for how long they’ll even be thinking about it).

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Song of the week

Spoon “The Underdog”

Anthony Davis said the Lakers are underdogs this season on media day, which seems like a stretch because most “underdog” stories don’t include three surefire Hall-of-Fame players. But considering how tamped down expectations have been, maybe he’s right? Anyways, thanks to AD for getting me thinking about this song from “Spoon” – a sneaky contender for best American rock band of the 30 years.

In case you missed it

For Lakers’ Anthony Davis the goal is simple: ‘Play all 82’

Lakers open camp with competition for starting spots

Hernandez: Anthony Davis seems to lack the heart and drive the Lakers need

Plaschke: Russell Westbrook is still combative, and the Lakers are still torn

LeBron James on verge of NBA history, but Lakers’ success hinges on Russell Westbrook

Lakers preview: Five questions to consider as training camp opens

Until next time...

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