The Lakers are required by NBA statue to submit an expected starting lineup early on game days, and the name currently listed in the game notes to replace the suspended Ron Artest is Shannon Brown, with Kobe Bryant sliding to the small forward spot. "It might be right, and it might be wrong," Phil Jackson, notoriously tight-lipped about these sorts of things, said with a smile Friday afternoon after shootaround.
If Lamar Odom is to be believed, put your money on "wrong."
L.A.'s award winning sixth man said he believes when lineups are announced before Game 3, he'll slide into the first five. "I think that's what [Jackson is] going to go with. I'm not sure, [but] I think," Odom said. "I haven't played small forward in a couple years now, but it makes no difference, you know what I mean? It's not like [the Mavericks] play a lot of isolation ball with their small forward anyway, or anything like that. So defensively, I won't be on an island or anything like that."
Given how little the team's "big three" of Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum have played together this season- a couple minutes, which for all intents and purposes equates to not at all- and even stretching back to last year when Jackson at least toyed with the configuration, adding Odom to the starting lineup for such a critical game is a bold move.
It reflects, too, how hamstrung the Lakers are without Artest available. Matt Barnes hasn't been the same since coming back from injury, while the play of Shannon Brown and Steve Blake hasn't exactly inspired confidence of late. The working theory, should Odom start, could very well be to get the best players on the floor as much as possible, and limit the other guys. This is one way to do it.
But make no mistake, it's a big change.
"It's not a lineup that we would use or have used regularly or often, only in need. I guess we are in need now," Gasol said when asked about the potential of Odom starting. "When we're out there, Lamar is a versatile player, and can play any position pretty much on the floor, so we've just got to be working together defensively and offensively. Once we do that and we communicate, everything just works better, whatever the lineup is out there."
Offensively, Odom can do anything Artest can inside the system, and has the benefit of adding a better ball handler and facilitator than either Brown or Barnes. His presence could allow Bryant work more off ball, always a good thing. As Gasol touches on, it's the defensive side where the Lakers would have the biggest adjustment to make. Defense is about continuity and communication as much as anything, and obviously the three bigs aren't used to working on the floor at the same time. Then there's the question of how Jackson handles substitution patterns through the rest of the game, and how he counters when Rick Carlisle tries to spread the floor with a smaller lineup.
It's an uncomfortable choice, should it happen, because if this was a lineup the coaching staff thought would be productive in big moments, we'd probably have seen it far more frequently by now. We haven't, and frankly when we have the returns haven't been exhilarating. At the same time, do you have more faith in the alternatives?
Click below for this afternoon's film of Phil Jackson, talking about the need for shooters to remain confident (he did point out- with a smile- after the 0-16 start from 3-point range in Game 2, they've gone 2-4 since), and more on Game 3.