Rethinking Luke’s Likely Starting Lineup!

Taking a second look at what’s behind Luke Walton’s decision to start Rajon Rondo and KCP over Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart

Luke Walton’s likely decision to start veterans Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the backcourt in tomorrow night’s season opener instead of second year stars Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart was, in retrospect, the right move.

While a valid argument could be made that Ball and Hart could be a better backcourt duo to start alongside LeBron James, there were other compelling off-court reasons why Luke will probably start Rondo and KCP, including wanting to surround LeBron with the proven veterans he’s used to as the Lakers face tough challenges in tomorrow’s opener on the road against the Blazers followed by Saturday’s home opener against the Houston Rockets.

It’s always easy for armchair coaches to make decisions who starts or plays without considering the realities that face a coach like Luke who needs to win the support not only of his players but also of a front office that was not the one that hired him and a superstar who’s never ever before played for him. Luke cannot ignore that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka spent $12 million to sign veteran Rajon Rondo and $9 million to sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Bottom line, Luke’s starting the vets and putting the onus on the kids to prove they’re ready to start. Potentially being better won’t be enough for the kids. They’ll have to prove they’re clearly better before they earn the right to start. And frankly, that’s the way it should be in the locker room and Luke knows it. By starting the veterans Rondo and KCP, Luke is making sure that there will be no ill will or sense of unfairness should he decide to make a change.

Starting vets Rondo and KCP also makes it easier for Luke to make a change in the starting lineup should the team struggle early whereas starting kids like Lonzo and Josh could put Luke in the difficult situation where he might have to make a decision to pull the kids, which could hurt their development. The last thing Luke wants to do is start the kids before they’re ready and then be forced to pull them for vets and undermine their confidence and growth.

While I’m confident Luke will eventually start Lonzo and Josh, there are a couple of things I like about Rondo and KCP starting. First, I like the idea of Rondo playing with JaVale McGee and throwing him lobs off pick-and-rolls. Rondo’s half-court point guard skills are far more advanced than Lonzo’s. Second, I like the idea of Lonzo coming off the bench and playing with Kyle Kuzma. They have a special chemistry and Lonzo is critical to Kuz excelling.

While I was initially critical of Luke’s likely decision to start Rondo and KCP, I now believe it to be the right decision, especially considering the tough first two games. It just makes sense not to put the pressure on two second year stars when you have two capable veterans available. Depending on how we compete and how our guards play on offense and defense to start the season, it’s not impossible Luke might decide to make a quick move to start the kids.

That Luke is looking at his bench as interchangeable components to plug into and play with the starters rather than as a separate five-man second unit that would play together hopefully shows he’s learned from a lot from last year. In retrospect, Luke has made the right decision to start Rondo and KCP. He’s responded well to a tough challenge and that bodes well for the Lakers and shows that Luke is learning on the job and is ready to make the big decisions.