As the last remaining crumbs in the free agency market settle into place and summer league in the rearview mirror, the hierarchy of franchises around the league has gotten much clearer. While evaluating teams on paper at this point in the offseason is always a risky undertaking, the training camp battles for position for each team has definitely taken shape.
There are multiple situations around the league to keep an eye on heading into training camp. Today we’ll look at some of the most intriguing potential training camp battles.
Who is the floor general in Los Angeles? Rajon Rondo or Lonzo Ball?
The Los Angeles Lakers won the offseason by signing four-time league MVP LeBron James to a multi-year deal in free agency. The Lakers haven’t reached the postseason since 2014 and have been loaded with young players over the past few seasons while in the midst of rebuilding.
The addition of James has put a halt to the youth movement, and one-year deals to veterans such as Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley were designed to add more experience and maturity to the Lakers’ locker room. Yes, the Lakers are still loaded with young talent but more veterans on the bench will add an extra layer of accountability that hasn’t been there in recent years.
One situation to watch is the dynamic between Rondo and second year guard Lonzo Ball.
Ball had an uneven rookie season with inconsistent shooting and injury problems, but the youngster showed flashes of long-term potential throughout the ups and downs. Ball, who started 50 out of the 52 contests he appeared in as a rookie, has been nursing a torn meniscus this summer but should be ready by the start of training camp. Rondo has started 89 percent of the 779 regular season games he’s appeared in since entering the league in 2006.
Ball may be the future floor general in Los Angeles, outside of James, but expect Rondo to give the guard a nightly push to remain in the lineup – a luxury head coach Luke Walton didn’t have in place last season.
The trio of point guards in Minny
Make no mistake: heading into training camp, former All-Star Jeff Teague should be penciled in as the starter in Minnesota. The club signed Teague to a three-year $57 million deal in 2017 and the veteran responded by averaging 14 points and 7 assists in a solid first season with the Timberwolves.
However, longtime head coach Tom Thibodeau favorite (and former league MVP) Derrick Rose is back in the fold. Last season Rose, acquired very late in the campaign, appeared in just nine regular season games for Minnesota and averaged 12 minutes per appearance. During the playoffs, Rose’s court time doubled to 24 minutes per outing while Teague’s were slightly reduced by three and a half minutes. With a full training camp it is fair to question how much Thibodeau will lean on Rose.
Reports emerged back in June that fourth-year guard Tyus Jones had considered seeking a trade from the franchise after averaging less than 20 minutes in the regular season and playoffs. Jones was reportedly assured by Thibodeau that his opportunities and minutes would increase in 2019. So now the question is, at Rose or Teague’s expense?
Post-LeBron era logjam at point guard
In many aspects, point guards that have played with LeBron James take on more of a shooting guard’s role. The list is long and includes players such as Mo Williams, Mario Chalmers and Kyrie Irving. The latter requested a trade from Cleveland back in 2017 because he reportedly wanted to prove himself as a true floor general.
In the post-James era, the Cavaliers have three players — George Hill, Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson — that will vie for the 48 minutes of court time.
Sexton is obviously the future, but how much will Cleveland turn their rookie loose in year one? Especially if the franchise truly believes they can make a playoff run despite the loss of James this season. Hill is on the books for $37 million this season and next, but $18 million in non-guaranteed in 2020 which could make Hill an attractive trade asset. Clarkson, also under contract through 2020, was wildly inconsistent during the playoffs shooting 30 percent from the floor and just 29 percent from three-point range.
What a luxury the Boston Celtics have on the wing!
Head coach Brad Stevens will have the most talented roster he’s ever coached headed into training camp. The Boston Celtics were just one win away from a NBA Finals appearance with the services of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Both are expected to be back at full strength and ready to go come the regular season.
It will be interesting to see the creativity Stevens uses to slot playing time for Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Hayward next season. On veteran teams, winning helps remove the ego but younger guys like to play heavy minutes. The abundance of talent on the wing will be a luxury in Boston.
The paint is clogged in Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Bucks added more versatility to its frontcourt with the signing of Brook Lopez this summer on a one-year deal. Lopez is a former 20 point per game scorer and All-Star performer coming off a season where he averaged the fewest minutes per game (23.4) of his career. The addition of Lopez immediately puts the role of veteran John Henson in question. Henson started 69 games last season and averaged 25 minutes per outing.
Complicating matters is third year center Thon Maker is expected to receive an extended look. Maker averaged 9.9 minutes as a rookie and 16.7 minutes last season. During the playoffs, Maker’s minutes increased to nearly 22 per contest.
The Bucks will be ushering in the head coach Mike Budenholzer era, which means previous roles and expectations will become null and void.
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