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Greg Oden & Brandon Roy
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Big additions equal lineup changes for Lakers, Trail Blazers

By Dave McMenamin,
Posted Oct 28 2008 2:41PM

LOS ANGELES -- When the Lakers and the Trail Blazers take the court on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT) as part of Opening Night as the NBA draws the curtain on its 63rd season, the two teams involved will be doing a little unveiling of their own.

Both Los Angeles and Portland will have new starting lineups thanks to the recoveries of their two marquee big men -- Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden.

Bynum's return from the kneecap injury he sustained last January gives the Lakers a physical presence in the middle to complement the high-post oriented game of Pau Gasol.

"We had a really good team last year that went to The Finals, and there's something to be said for that," Los Angeles head coach Phil Jackson said. "It might not be the best role for [Bynum] to start, but from the standpoint of big guys coming off the bench and igniting a team, that's really a role for a small forward or a guard or something like that."


• McMenamin: Bynum reaches for sky-high potential
• 'Average' debut may bode well for Oden
NBA TV's Trail Blazers season preview
• VIDEO: NBA TV's Roundtable with Greg Oden
• VIDEO: NBA TV goes One-on-One with Brandon Roy
• VIDEO: NBA TV's Lakers season preview
• VIDEO: SI Previews: Lakers

L.A. did indeed have a really good team last season, but it was a team that was thoroughly outmuscled and outhustled in The Finals by the Boston Celtics' bigs. The Celtics wrestled the title away from the Lakers with defense and rebounding, so one way to immediately address those problem areas is to plug in the 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum, who averaged 6.9 rebounds and 1.75 blocks in just 23.4 minutes per game during the preseason.

Adding Bynum meant Jackson had to bump somebody else out of the starting lineup and with Gasol, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant firmly grasping their spots, the choice came down to Lamar Odom and Vladimir Radmanovic.

Odom seemed like the no-brainer choice to stay in the lineup as he was coming off an excellent campaign with averages of 14.2 points and 10.6 rebounds. He shot .525 percent from the field and got a huge boost during the second half of the season from playing alongside Gasol.

Plus, the sheer thought of a frontline featuring a 6-10 small forward in Odom next to two 7-footers at the four and the five was too intriguing not to entertain.

Jackson had other ideas, proclaiming at the start of training camp that he intended on experimenting with the starting lineup like a kid not following the instructions from a new Lego set.

Odom struggled with the perceived demotion at first, volleying jabs back and forth with Jackson through the media for the first week or so of the preseason. Jackson said that Odom looked like he was playing another sport out there (if you can call curling a sport). Odom did not take the benching well seeing as he's in the last year of his contract and wants to put up big numbers so he can make a splash on the free agent market this summer.

Trevor Ariza, who joined the Lakers in November and then broke his foot in January, causing him to miss the end of the season and most of the Lakers' extended playoff run, looked to have the job in his grasp before Jackson settled on Radmanovic.

"With Trevor I thought he could be a guy that can get us into the offense quickly and start and run well, but with a big lineup teams are going to want to pack it in and drop back and Vlade, that seems like a perfect fit for him," Jackson said. "He can extend the defense and he'll have some space out there to get the ball inside to these big guys."

Odom has since accepted his new substitution role and Ariza has as well. "As long as I can contribute, I don't care," Ariza said. "I like to think that I'm versatile enough where I can fit in anywhere so whatever is asked of me, I can do."

The Lakers already had one of the deepest rotations in the league last season with their "Bench Mob", a group that now adds Odom and Ariza, earning the new moniker of the "Minute Men" from Jackson because of the squad's potential for production in short spurts of time.

"We have a nice bench," Gasol said. "Obviously we have a deep team and great players come off the bench too. That's part of our success."


• McMenamin: Bynum reaches for sky-high potential
• 'Average' debut may bode well for Oden
NBA TV's Trail Blazers season preview
• VIDEO: NBA TV's Roundtable with Greg Oden
• VIDEO: NBA TV goes One-on-One with Brandon Roy
• VIDEO: NBA TV's Lakers season preview
• VIDEO: SI Previews: Lakers

Portland welcomes back Oden from microfracture knee surgery and while Jackson was iffy about inserting Bynum into the first unit right away, Blazers head coach Nate McMillan says that his 7-foot, 285-pound center's starting spot is set "in stone."

Just because he's starting and was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft doesn't mean he has to shoulder the load, however.

"We want to slowly work him in, I don't think you just give a huge piece of the responsibility right off the bat because we have options," McMillan said. "We have LaMarcus [Aldridge] that has shown what he is capable of doing and Brandon Roy who has shown what he is capable of doing so my approach with him would be to slowly bring him along and give him some sets and allow him to play with the ball and you go from there."

Aldridge has already reaped the benefits of having Oden out there with him on offense ("Now when I get the ball I'm wide open, whereas last year I might have been open but there was a guy running at me," Aldridge said), while Roy already marvels at the young big man's impact on the defensive end ("We feel confident having him back there because we know if we get beat, you know you got a big man who's going to come over and he's a pretty good shot blocker," Roy said.)

McMillan has also tried out different starters at point guard and small forward, including trying on three other rookies in Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum on for size. Bayless is likely to back up Steve Blake at the one, Fernandez will sub in for Roy at times at the two, but Batum could end up being the starter at the three.

The 6-foot-8 swingman out of France ended the preseason with three consecutive starts and McMillan seems primed to give him the surprise start over Travis Outlaw, who averaged 13.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in a reserve role last season.

"It may be something we have to work with, I don't think we can just pencil in a guy at that position and say, 'He's going to be the guy,'" McMillan said. "Preseason is one thing, regular season is another.

"You're not talking about a lot of experience and it's a lot to put that pressure on him right away."

Finding minutes for all of the new pieces on both teams could be tricky. The Lakers return all of their major role players except for Ronny Turiaf, who signed with the Warriors in the offseason. The Blazers parted with Jarrett Jack and James Jones (via a trade with Indiana and free agency, respectively), but they added four talented rookies to fill those minutes and then some.

Don't forget though, McMillan got some practice this summer of what it's like to manage a ton of talent through his service with USA Basketball at the Olympics in Beijing.

"There's potential," McMillan said. "That's what it is; potential. No one has seen it. We're talking about guys when it takes two-three years to get a feel for this league."

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