And Starting at Small Forward…..

Kurt —  October 17, 2006

There’s an interesting debate in the comments on the last post that I thought deserved its own airing.

In that post suggested that Luke Walton, at least so far in the preseason, has earned the starting spot and that new free agent Vlad Radmanovic should come off the bench. But Rob started the debate with a good point:

Vlad is slowed by injury and adjustment to the triangle. Reason dictates that Luke start and Vlad come off the bench. But Vlad was wooed here by the promise of starting. What happens after a week or two of the season if he is still coming off the bench? Would we get the best play out of Vlad? He could feel that the Lakers went back on their word and we could wind up with a large chunk of salary cap being wasted.

On the surface it seems pretty simple — you should start the best player. The goal is to win, and to do that the best player should start and get more minutes. So far, no doubt, that has been Walton.

But the Lakers put on a full-court press to get Radmanovic the moment the free agent window opened. Kobe and Phil Jackson called him in Europe, they convinced him he was needed. And in pretty much every account he was told – or at least it was intimated – that he would start.

Right now he’s his sprained hand keeps him from being 100%, but what about when he is? Acting coach Kurt Rambis has said several times that RadMan has been a better defender and rebounder than he thought. When his hand is healthy and he can shoot what do you do?

Remember, if you go back on your word you could sour Radmanovic, and he’s got a five-year deal. Worse, other free agents might shy away feeling the organization can’t be trusted.

Craig W. added another good point in the comments:

Think about balance when comaring Luke and Vlade. The individuals don’t matter as much as the team. It may be nice to have the best man starting, but think about our second team. These are the guys who come in at the end of the 1st period and start the 2nd. We need a group that won’t lose a lead gained by the 1st unit. Walton fits these needs to a tee. 1) He would be the leader of the 2nd unit, 2) he would be the focal point of the offense and get more points than otherwise, and 3) he would be responsible for directing the “energy” guys to play the right way – not just energetic.

So what do you do? Start Walton? Start Vlad? Start Walton until Vlad is healthy? A lot of this depends on the players’ attitudes – something impossible to judge from outside the locker room (and plenty of coaches misjudge even inside).

On the bright side, this is the kind of “problem” that bodes well for the team.