Nothin' but Net: Training camp battles

Philadelphia, PA ( - With all NBA teams into training camp, there are a few interesting decisions some coaches have ahead of them in terms of starters, or impactful bench guys.

Granted, the NBA isn't like the NFL where there are legitimate competitions for key positions. It's one of the many differences between the sports. That and extraordinary TV ratings.

But there are a handful of teams, some with huge expectations when it comes to deep runs in the postseason, who have position battles to be settled.


Who will start at the power forward spot?

When Dwight Howard inked his contract with the Rockets, Omer Asik moved to limbo land. The incumbent center, who signed a three-year, $25 million contract before last season, had a good 2012-13 when he averaged 10.1 ppg and 11.7 rpg.

You can feel for Asik. Those kind of numbers should warrant your employer looking for a replacement, but Howard is an elite talent. No one faults general manager Daryl Morey and the Rockets organization for signing Howard, but the team needs to settle on who will start with Howard, James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons.

For his part, Asik didn't handle the Superman signing well early. Reports indicated he asked to be traded, but Morey said no. The worst thing Asik can do is be mopey and sulk. He needs to show head coach Kevin McHale he wants the job, can form an awesome frontline with Howard, defend premiere bigs and let Howard protect the rim and make this version of the twin towers a success.

"We're going to give it every opportunity to work," McHale said at media day. "If it sucks, I'm surely not going to continue to do it. If it plays well, I'll try and do it more.

"They've got to make it work. I can't make it work. My expectation is to give them every opportunity to make it work."

If successful, this could be the best rebounding duo in the league. If it doesn't, where does McHale turn?

On Tuesday, after practice, McHale said he'll look at small lineups with Chandler Parsons or Ronnie Brewer at the four. That fits the Rockets up-tempo offensive philosophy.

If a more natural power forward is your thing, Greg Smith, a grunt guy who started some last season, Donatas Motiejunas, a 7-footer with modest long- range ability, and second-year man Terrance Jones are the candidates.

Asik, if he buys into and can gel with Howard, is the best of those options.


Iguodala, Thompson, or Barnes?

The Warriors stunned almost everyone when they worked a sign-and-trade deal for versatile swingman, Andre Iguodala. He is just what the Warriors need, meaning someone who displays something more than indifference to defense.

The veteran can also help the locker room and help the team grow. To bring Iguodala to Oakland, the Warriors shipped a ton of useless parts to the Utah Jazz to free up the space. Unfortunately, Golden State also lost Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, two of the best bench players in the NBA last season.

The Warriors are primed for a run in the Western Conference playoffs.

Steph Curry, David Lee and Andrew Bogut are penciled in as starters. They are healthy and the two big men, Lee and Bogut, have been hampered in recent seasons. If you don't know why Curry is starting, go read "Elle."

But who of the Iguodala/Klay Thompson/Harrison Barnes trio sits, and which two start at the wing spots?

Iguodala signed a four-year, $48 million contract in the offseason. That means he's starting, or that's flushing money for a bench guy. Plus, Iguodala deserves the start.

Thompson has formed an incredible backcourt with Curry over two seasons. They made a record 483 three-pointers last season. Seems Thompson is safe.

That leaves Barnes on the bench. Truthfully, Iguodala is more suited to the small forward spot than shooting guard. Same goes for Barnes, who bulked up in the offseason, possibly anticipating more minutes down low.

Surely it seems Barnes, who started all 93 games he played last season, including the playoffs, where he averaged 16.1 ppg, would be the Sixth Man?

"That's going to play itself out," said head coach Mark Jackson. "I have so many weapons and so many options, we'll allow it to play itself out. Whoever it is, they're going to play."

Iguodala and Barnes are both extremely versatile. Barnes' new girth might allow him to slide to the power forward spot in an incredibly fast lineup with Lee at the center.

"I can see him playing the two, three and four," Jackson said of Barnes.

Money talks and you know what walks. That means Iguodala and Thompson start and Barnes is bench bound.


The biggest question surrounding the New York Knicks' starting lineup is, which position is Carmelo Anthony going to play?

Last season, Anthony played a lot of minutes at the power forward and was a nightmare matchup for fours to defend. His natural spot is the small forward, so what does head coach Mike Woodson do?

"I don't know who's going to start," Woodson acknowledged Tuesday.

First, let's dismiss the notion of Amare Stoudemire starting again. He underwent yet another knee surgery in the offseason and Woodson has acknowledged that maintaining his minutes is a must.

The other question Woodson is facing is, does Pablo Prigioni start alongside Ray Felton in the backcourt? If so, and that lineup was very successful last season, Iman Shumpert would start at the small forward and Melo would be the four.

If Shumpert starts at the other guard, and Anthony starts at the four, Woodson needs a small forward. The logical choice would be Metta World Peace, someone not normally associated with logic.

If Anthony is shifting back to the small forward, then the starting power forward will most likely be Andrea Bargnani. At times, Woodson sounded like a high-school sophomore gushing about Bargnani.

"He's one of those gifted players I think I can reach," Woodson swooned. "He's good enough to help us."

Hard to argue moving Anthony back to the small forward. However, he wreaked havoc in that power forward slot.


What to do with Chauncey?

When Chauncey Billups returned to the Detroit Pistons, he said it wasn't for nostalgia purposes. He also said, he didn't like playing the two guard last season with the Los Angeles Clippers.

So, that leaves Mo Cheeks in something of a pickle.

The Pistons acquired Brandon Jennings and signed him long-term to be the point guard. Does Billups start alongside Jennings in the backcourt, playing the dreaded two guard, or does Billups come off the bench and someone like Rodney Stuckey line up at the shooting guard?

Smart money says Cheeks starts Billups, not just as a sign of respect, but to provide on-court leadership. Jennings and free-agent Josh Smith can get a tad out of hand on the floor and Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are babies.

Stuckey can play off the bench and Detroit can bring first-round pick, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope along slowly.


Who becomes the man off the bench?

For years, the Thunder had James Harden anchor their second unit. He won Sixth Man of the Year, the team went to the Finals, realized they couldn't afford him, sold him for some beans and are here now.

Last season, the prolific scorer off the pine was Kevin Martin, who came over in the Harden trade with the Houston Rockets. He averaged a respectable 14.0 ppg in his reserve role.

Martin bolted to the Minnesota Timberwolves via free agency, so that scorer's role off the bench is open. And needed. Scott Brooks starts Thabo Sefalohsa at the shooting guard for his defense, so someone needs to put the ball in the hoop for the second squad.

Plus, that person will see crunch-time minutes and, with Russell Westbrook sidelined 4-6 weeks to start the regular season, another scorer to go with Kevin Durant is vital.

The player most likely to give the role a shot is Jeremy Lamb. The second-year man from UConn, who also came to OKC via the Rockets in the Harden trade, averaged 6.4 minutes per game in his rookie season. That's a lot to ask someone to go from non-factor to humongous factor.

There's no easy solution to this one. It's going to plague Oklahoma City early and maybe all season.


- I can't envision caring less about who Michael Jordan beat one-on-one at a camp, nor do I give a rat's petunia about who he thinks he could beat in his or their prime.

- The Westbrook injury will hurt the Thunder early obviously, but he'll be fresher for the playoffs with the possible two-month layoff, and that's a good thing. The Thunder don't need the No. 1 seed to win the Western Conference. As long as everyone is healthy in the postseason, OKC can beat anyone, anywhere. Durant is going to put massive numbers in Westbrook's absence. We're talking bigger than large.

- I like that the New York Knicks picked up Woodson's option for next season. There is once again upheaval in the front office, but Woodson has been great for a team with a lot of talent and a lot of personalities. He's always thoughtful (full of thought, not gooey) when answering questions and is someone who adapts to his guys and their strengths.

- Having a hard time deciding on who I like for Most Improved Player this season. After successfully tabbing Paul George last season, I feel pressure. There are eight names on my board.

- Movie moment - Interesting read on what movies Pope Francis loves. To my massive surprise, we would disagree about what to see.

- TV moment - I'm never going to watch Robin Williams in a TV show. Let me guess - he'll act crazy, do some weird voices, have a sweet moment with someone? Did I get it right?