Last season there was a lot of speculation that Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson might start a giant front line of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
In that alignment there wouldn’t be one smaller player to defend the NBA’s many swift, active small forwards. For that reason I never took the speculation seriously.
Now there’s talk that the Lakers might start an even bigger group, with Bynum, Gasol, and Odom being joined by two big guards, Kobe Bryant and newcomer Ron Artest.
Once again, I don’t see the wisdom. Not only wouldn’t the Lakers have the proper-sized small forward, they wouldn’t have anyone to match up night after night with the league’s many lightning-quick point guards.
But the eight exhibition games permitted in the NBA give coaches an opportunity to experiment. And that’s what Jackson has been doing.
In the first game, the Lakers’ tall front line easily overpowered the Golden State Warriors’ small lineup in Anaheim.
But when the teams played again a few nights later, the Warriors’ spoiled the Lakers’ nostalgic return to the Forum with a 20-point victory.
In that game, the Warriors’ speed got to the Lakers instead of the Lakers’ brute strength being a factor.
And so, it is as I suspect. The huge lineup might be employed from time to time, but I don’t think it can be the staple of the Lakers’ game plan over the 82-game season. The travel, the fatigue, becomes something to be concerned about and smaller, swifter players are required.
Then in the third exhibition game, when the Lakers had some injuries, including Odom, Jackson called on a backcourt of Jordan Farmer and Shannon Brown.
An important ingredient for a championship team is chemistry, and that doesn’t merely mean the players have to get along. It means they have to accept their roles.
With the Lakers’ opening defense of their championship on Tuesday, October 27 against the Clippers, those roles haven’t been determined yet.
Odom says he’d be content as a reserve, but we’ll see how that unfolds. Does he mean it’s not important to start as long as he plays in decisive fourth quarters? He did last season because Bynum didn’t come back well enough from knee injuries to earn that time. But what if Bynum is ready to dominate now, as he has shown at times in exhibition games. Does Odom sit at the most crucial times? Does Gasol?
Then there’s Artest. He’s been reluctant to shoot as he’s trying to see where he’s needed. He’s trying to be a good teammate. But Jackson is asking Artest to assert himself more.
Artest points out he’s never been on a team with such talent as Bryant, Gasol and Odom. He’s studying them to determine how he belongs.
In time he’ll probably fit in well. He’s a quality player. But it’s not likely to happen in the first few weeks of the season. The Lakers would have been more cohesive at the outset of the season if they’d have stuck with Trevor Ariza at small forward.
But they didn’t.
Before the season gets too far along, we’ll get some answers to how Jackson will employ his personnel. There’s also Sasha Vujecic, who’ll compete with Farmer and Brown for minutes. And there’ll be an occasional game when Josh Powell is needed at forward for matchup purposes.
Last season’s championship is a pleasant memory for fans. The celebration is behind us and the off-season is over.
As the NBA begins again the Lakers start like all the other teams — with a 0-0 record.