Lakers News: LeBron James-Russell Westbrook Partnership, Starting 5, Final Cuts

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 18, 2021

Lakers News: LeBron James-Russell Westbrook Partnership, Starting 5, Final Cuts

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    The end of the NBA preseason always feels like a finish line.

    The offseason work has ended, the roster has been trimmed to the allowable length, and position battles have had a chance to play out.

    In truth, of course, the Los Angeles Lakers haven't even made it to the starting blocks yet. They'll get there Tuesday night, when they welcome the Golden State Warriors to the Staples Center and begin their quest for a second world title in three seasons.

    With the marathon awaiting them, it's little surprise to see the latest round of Lakers news revolve around preparations for the upcoming campaign.

LeBron, Westbrook Making Progress with New Partnership

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    It seems like every time NBA stars join forces, there are always questions about how touches will be divided between them.

    With LeBron James and Russell Westbrook on the same roster, though, that concern might be magnified. Both do their best work with the ball in their hands—they are, among other things, two of the top playmakers in this league.

    Their ability to coexist will be one of the key plot points of this entire season, but coach Frank Vogel relayed to reporters the two have already started forming that connection:

    "So far there's been great willingness to play off of each other and to read each other. And it's really been pretty seamless in terms of who is bringing it, who is initiating where guys are going to be. And then obviously playing with one another in two-man action. I think that chemistry has been pretty strong to start, but there's definitely a willingness for those guys to share and to sacrifice and to coexist out there."

    If James and Westbrook can manage this two-man dance, that will go a long way toward turning the Lakers' biggest dreams into a reality.

Frank Vogel Will Consult Coaches, Stars While Choosing Starting 5

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    The Lakers have one major decision to make with their starting lineup: Go big or go...well, less big. While lineups with Anthony Davis at center might function more like small-ball looks, they won't exactly be going small if they have the 6'10", 253-pounder manning the middle.

    L.A.'s starting center spot has been discussed throughout the season, and Vogel still isn't ready to make his final decision. While the call is ultimately his, he plans to talk it over with several people inside the organization—players included—before finalizing the first five.

    "We'll have conversations, both with the coaching staff, the front office and with our captains, and see what everybody is feeling about it," Vogel told reporters.

    Vogel's options at center include Davis, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, but the decision may not be the key part of this news nugget. Bigger picture, Vogel's willingness to take input from those around him and his stars could be key in managing egos and keeping happy a roster littered with current and former stars.

Lakers Make Final Roster Cuts

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    The Lakers could have gone into this season with all available roster spots filled. They went with flexibility instead.

    L.A. cut its roster to 15 players recently—including one two-way player (Sekou Doumbouya)—by waiving Joel Ayayi, Chaundee Brown Jr., Cameron Oliver and Trevelin Queen. Ayayi, who has since been claimed by the Washington Wizards, was the most surprising omission, as he was one of the top undrafted free agents this year and signed with the Lakers shortly after the talent grab.

    However, L.A. could use this newfound roster flexibility to its advantage.

    Everyone had to cut down their rosters ahead of the season's opening, so the player pool is deeper than it's been in months. The Lakers seem likely to use their final two-way spot sooner than later.

    They might opt against filling the 15th full roster spot, for now at least. For starters, any signing would increase their already-costly luxury tax. Beyond that, having an open spot might make it easier to broker an in-season trade, or it could allow them to pluck someone from the buyout market later in the year.