The NBA's defending champions, the L.A. Lakers, took the floor on Wednesday night to take on the Golden State Warriors in their preseason opener. On Friday, they'll see the Warriors again in a rematch.
If the Lakers are willing to gamble, then we might not see Derek Fisher as their starting point guard.
Let me explain. Last week, Lakers coach Phil Jackson mentioned that he'd formulated a "big" idea for the team's starting lineup — rather than start Fisher and Kobe Bryant as the team's two guards, he was considering playing just one guard, Kobe, and a revamped lineup that featured four forward/center-type players.
After Kobe, it's clear that Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum are the second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-best players on the Lakers' roster. With that in mind, why not just start them all? It's an idea that popped into the Zen Master's head during training camp, and it's a wonder he hasn't followed through on it yet.
"There’s a variety of guys [that] can fit into [the lineup], but also those five as an overwhelming group that can do some things," Jackson told the Orange County Register last week. "With the type of offense we run, they can function quite well without a point guard."
And yet on Wednesday, Jackson went with the same old boring starting five we were all expecting. The seven-footer Bynum got the start at center, Gasol and Artest played forward, and Kobe and Fisher, as always, manned the two guard positions. Odom, a double-digit scorer in each of the last 10 years, came off the bench.
In 23 minutes, Odom put up six points and seven rebounds as the team's sixth man. The Lakers were plus-14 with the 6-foot-10 forward on the floor.
Meanwhile, Fisher shot 1-for-4. He finished with two points, two assists, zero rebounds and three fouls. In 17 minutes, his plus-minus was plus-8.
You tell me which guy should start.
Is it that simple? Honestly, it probably is. With a floor leader like Kobe Bryant on your side, Jackson is right — your team really doesn't need a conventional point guard. Kobe has the vision and the basketball IQ to lead the Lakers, and after that, just use the most talented supporting cast you can. While Fisher is a decent point, he's not an essential piece of the puzzle.
Fisher would make a fine sixth man. Odom would make a better starter.
On Wednesday night, it didn't make a difference. The Lakers won easily, as they'd have done with any starting five, jumping out to an early lead and waltzing away 118-101.
On Friday, the Lakers should experiment.
Why not? They're not likely to lose either way — and even if they do, it's only a preseason game. If the Zen Master wants to see his big idea in action, now's his chance.
It doesn't matter now. But it could down the road. Imagine the Western Conference finals. Imagine the Lakers' big bodies up against the Spurs — Kobe on Tony Parker, Artest on Manu Ginobili. Imagine the Celtics in the Finals, with a three-headed Laker monster devouring Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace.
It's a crazy idea. But it's just crazy enough to work. And now's the Lakers' chance to find out.
The Lakers are already the defending champions. They're the class of the NBA, no matter who they start. But if they can tinker with some things in preseason, they have a chance to be bigger than ever. Literally.
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