Training camp means different things to different players. Whether it’s NFL camp opening up last week, or NBA camp set to open in about a month, the preseason is a collection of established veterans who can safely go through the motions, hungry youngsters looking to make a name for themselves, and desperate fringe types fighting for employment.
With NBA free-agent signings and trades still being completed, not every roster is set in stone, but for the most part we have a good idea who will make up each team’s starting lineup. Except for the handful of incumbent starters who have a battle ahead of them when they get back on the court. Here are 10 NBA starters receiving a tough challenge to hold down their spot:
Mike Bibby — He started every one of his 91 appearances last season (including playoffs), but only averaged 27 minutes a night. Now 32 years old, Bibby’s ability to hit jumpers and run the offense can’t mask his lack of speed and lateral movement as much anymore. Meanwhile, second-year PG Jeff Teague was then-assistant/now-head coach Larry Drew’s project during his rookie year, and Teague had a good summer league with 15.6 points and 4.2 assists per game.
Brandon Rush & Dahntay Jones — I’ll admit, I didn’t get it when my Indiana Pacers took Paul George with the 10th pick of the Draft. I like George’s game and was a fan of his at Fresno State, but I didn’t see the point in taking a small forward in the Lottery when Indy already has Danny Granger playing the three. But watching George in summer league, I think the Pacers are grooming him to play two-guard and form a wing combo with Granger where both players go a long 6-foot-8. That’s bad news for Rush and Jones, who split time at the two last year. Jones’ best chance at keeping his starting job is reminding Coach Jim O’Brien how valuable he is on defense, while Rush will have to start delivering the promise as a scorer Indiana saw for him coming out of Kansas. But there’s a good chance George’s smooth offensive game and athleticism will be too tantalizing for O’Brien to stick on the bench.
Caron Butler — Can a team have two Sixth Man of the Year candidates? The Mavericks seem committed to Rodrigue Beaubois starting in the backcourt (allowing Jason Terry to stay in his Sixth Man role), which leaves Caron and Shawn Marion to vye for the starting small forward job. I’d give Marion the nod because he brings more to the table as a rebounder and versatile defender, and let Caron come off the bench as one of the second unit’s go-to scorers; if he can accept that role. Dallas would then have arguably the best bench in the West with Butler playing alongside Terry, J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and Dominique Jones.
Kendrick Perkins — By the time Perk comes back from knee surgery around his goal of the All-Star break, Jermaine O’Neal would have (barring his own injury) logged about 50 games as Boston’s starting center. Jermaine is a better scorer than Perk, but Perk has the edge in rebounding and defense. If he comes back out of shape and/or if J.O. is playing well, Perkins will have an uphill battle to get back in the starting lineup.
Carl Landry — After about half of a breakout season, Landry fell off the mainstream map again when the Rockets traded him to Sacramento in the T-Mac/Kevin Martin deal. Landry did earn a full-time starting job with the Kings, though, averaging 18.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in his stint with the team. But with rookie DeMarcus Cousins and third-year pro Jason Thompson viewed as the Kings’ big-man tandem of the future, Landry may be back to his old Sixth Man role he held in Houston. Landry is definitely one of Sacramento’s five best players, but could be pushed out of a starting role nonetheless.
Other starters on the brink:
Elton Brand (76ers) — Marreese Speights and Spencer Hawes will push for PT alongside or ahead of Brand, who has struggled ever since arriving in Philly.
Jose Calderon (Raptors) — Toronto already tried to trade Calderon this summer. If he’s still around come Opening Night, Jarrett Jack will likely have taken his job by then.
Marcus Camby (Blazers) — Greg Oden is on track in his rehab to return by training camp. Even with all of G.O.’s injuries, he’s still part of Portland’s future and will get every chance to start.
Nenad Krstic (Thunder) — Rookie Cole Aldrich will challenge Krstic, who averaged only 5.0 rebounds last season and shot just 40.5% from the field in the playoffs.
Courtney Lee (Nets) — Lee improved his numbers from his rookie year in Orlando (12.5 ppg, 1.3 spg), but didn’t quite have the breakout year some expected in his first year with the Nets. Free-agent pickup Anthony Morrow will bye for Lee’s starting job, plus coach Avery Johnson might want to move Terrence Williams to the two.