When a marquee franchise has made a litany of egregious mistakes, scrutinizing their every move simply becomes habitual. The Los Angeles Lakers certainly aren’t exempt from this.
With training camp set to commence in less than a week, new head coach Luke Walton told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News that he doesn’t intend on starting rookie Brandon Ingram right away. And while the knee-jerk reaction could cause one to be reminded of former head coach Byron Scott and his decision-making as it pertained to the young players, Walton’s explanation clears up some of the confusion:
“The biggest challenge for him will be the physical abuse of an NBA season,” Walton said. “It’s exhausting until your body gets used to it and adjusts to it. It takes time. The biggest challenge for him will be figuring out the best way to manage that, still train and take care of himself. The on-court stuff and his play will be just fine. It’ll be the challenge of the 82 game season he might struggle with.”
On the surface, you could make the argument that this course of action is eerily similar to Scott’s decision to bench both D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle last year. But the reality is that there’s a stark contrast to how they went about executing their plans.
Scott benched Russell and Randle a quarter through the season, which invited tension and discord. Both players expressed their displeasure with the decision, and rightfully so. Russell claimed he was on the cusp of finally figuring it out, and with the Lakers in a clear rebuild mode, stunting the growth of the young core was not the most shrewd move.
Scott often alluded to this operation as a means of teaching them valuable lessons about humility and maturity. He found it was in their best interest not to take being in the pros for granted. These comments were often made public, which ostensibly rubbed them the wrong way.
In Walton’s case, he makes an excellent point about Ingram, who played in just 36 games during his college tenure with Duke. He isn’t used to the grueling NBA schedule just yet. Electing to gradually bring him on board is a sound decision, considering there are legitimate alternatives on the roster, unlike in Scott’s case. And this differs from starting him, only to bench him before deciding he’s good enough to start again.
This past offseason, the Lakers signed Luol Deng to a four-year contract to be a veteran presence on and off the court. When Walton feels Ingram has made the requisite progress needed to be inserted in the rotation, he’ll find a way to make the change. Whether that means Deng moves to power forward in a small-ball lineup or comes off the pine remains to be seen. But regardless of what eventually transpires, it’s clear bringing Ingram off the bench to start the season isn’t all that ludicrous.
The harsh reality is that it won’t alter the inevitable — they’ll probably end up being one of the worst teams in the league once again. But there are positive signs emanating from all of this. At times, we questioned whether or not Byron Scott even liked some of the young players on the roster. He wasn’t really the ideal candidate for molding young talent.
On the contrary, Luke Walton has sought to make it clear he has 100 percent confidence in his players, but feels there’s a method to making everything come together favorably. This move assuages some of the pressure put on Ingram’s young shoulders as the No. 2 overall pick in the second-biggest market. If the Lakers are going to right this ship, he’ll need be to be a key cog, and if all goes well he should be starting in no time.