- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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We're two weeks into the season and the Lakers have 13.6 percent of the schedule under their belt. Even though it seems like they've been playing longer than that because the league packed nine games into the first 13 days of the schedule for L.A., there really is still a long way to go before the playoffs.
That's a good thing for Mike Brown because the new Lakers coach admittedly still has a long way to go in determining his playing rotation.
"I’d love to have a set rotation so the guys know exactly -- for the most part -- when they’re coming in and when they’re coming out, but I’m not there yet," Brown said after the Lakers beat the Warriors on Friday.
There are three positions in particular that Brown is toying with: starting small forward, backup small forward and backup shooting guard.
The problem is Brown has three small forwards when he only wants to play two (four if you count Luke Walton, but it appears Walton is being relegated to the bench for the time being) and two backup shooting guards when he only wants to play one.
The players still stuck in auditioning mode long after training camp has ended are Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks and Metta World Peace at small forward and Jason Kapono and Andrew Goudelock at backup shooting guard.
The in-flux nature of the roster was on full display Friday when Brown's rotation looked completely different against the Warriors than it did in the first eight games of the season.
Barnes had his best game of the year with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals in 30 minutes as the starting small forward, but it came just a day after he played only 17 minutes against Portland and was benched in the second half in favor of Ebanks.
"It's tough, but you have to stay professional about it, you have to stay ready," Barnes said. "We have a very unique situation where we have three small forwards that can play in the league and not too many teams have that. You just have to stay ready. Some nights it's going to be your night, some nights it may not. Some nights it may be the first half [only] that's going to be your night, so, you just have to stay ready and do whatever coach asks."
Barnes picked up DNPs in two out of the Lakers' first three games while Ebanks had firm control of the starting spot, but Barnes has now started at small forward ever since Game No. 5 against Denver.
Ebanks started the Lakers first four games at small forward, didn't play a minute in Games 5-7, played 17 minutes (all in the second half) in Game No. 8 against Portland and then sat in Game No. 9 on Friday against Golden State.
World Peace came into the season having been anointed by Brown as his bench leader, but he sat the entire second half against the Warriors and played just 10 minutes in the game.
"I tried not to do it," Brown said of World Peace's benching. "I did not want to do this, but it happened and we’ll go from there. Just like this thing is a process, I’m still searching a little bit too with what I want to do. I’m not completely sold on the second unit right now. That could change at any time."
Brown said he sat World Peace because he felt the Lakers' needed more scoring after putting up only 35 points in the first half, so he went with Barnes and Kobe Bryant in the second half for more minutes than he usually would because they had the hot hands.
"We work together, collectively," World Peace said about the rotation change. "We talked before the season started, we decided to play as a team and that’s what we’ll do."
When pressed, World Peace echoed his "we work together" credo a couple more times before adding, "When you’re a Laker, you’re a Laker. You’re on the team."
Brown said there's "no doubt" that having players on the team continuing to vie for minutes has raised the competitive tenor of practices.
"Guys have to be on their Ps and Qs," Brown said.
"I definitely think there's a competitive spirit," Barnes said. "We're all friends and we all hang out, so it's not a rivalry, but when the other one is out there, we're going to cheer for him."
The backup shooting guard battle has followed the same pattern as the push-and-pull at small forward. Goudelock earned the spot coming out of training camp and held it for the Lakers' first two games as Kapono sat. Then Kapono took the job for Games 3-8, as Goudelock played in just two of those games for a combined four minutes. Things got shuffled again against Golden State when Goudelock played seven minutes and Kapono just played five and the rookie even knocked in a couple of big free throws toward the end of the game.
"The reality of it is, I’m still searching," Brown said. "I’m going to search until I find the right combination."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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