Although the Los Angeles Lakers re-signed incumbent starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, he was not guaranteed to reprise that role this season alongside LeBron James. The Lakers went into training camp essentially with a clean slate and open mind with respect to their lineup.
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Head coach Luke Walton said the team intended to hold competitions at every position around James, but he offered the qualifier that being the top performer would not automatically guarantee a starting role as there were rotations and overall cohesion to consider.
The biggest position battle was between Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart. Both had stretches where they out-performed the other, but Hart’s hamstring injury late in training camp essentially cinched Caldwell-Pope as a starter.
Walton is keeping with the lineup of Rajon Rondo, Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, James and JaVale McGee for Saturday’s game with the Houston Rockets. Caldwell-Pope made just one basket — a 3-pointer — in 27 minutes of a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in the season opener.
“Some nights, the way we play, it’s going to find you more. Because we’re not out there running a set every time down, some nights the ball won’t find you,” Walton said of the relatively quiet night from his starting shooting guard.
But while Caldwell-Pope wasn’t heard from on the offensive side of things, Walton felt he contributed in other areas. “I thought, in watching the film, that KCP played very well,” Walton said.
“Defensively, he was flying around. He was cutting through the lane, all the things we ask him to do. The ball just so happened not to find him on some of the swings we get. It’s just the way it is sometimes when you play like that.
“He impacts the game defensively when he’s locked in. He can hound guards, fight through screens, and all those type of things, get in the passing lanes. Obviously, it’s nice to see the ball go through. Everyone wants to see that. But he has the ability to impact it on both sides.”
Caldwell-Pope didn’t have much to show for his activity on defense — grabbing two rebounds — but his +8 was a team-high.