Report: 3 candidates emerging for final starting spot for Lakers

Mike Battaglino
4 Min Read
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers reportedly have four of the five players for their starting lineup set heading into the 2023-24 NBA season, with “three realistic candidates” existing for the final spot.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell will lead the first unit and could be joined by either Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt or Taurean Prince.

“The fifth starter spot is the biggest question mark of camp,” wrote Jovan Buha of The Athletic. “Four of the Lakers’ five starters are known: James, Davis, Reaves and Russell. The Lakers haven’t made a decision on the fifth starter yet, team sources confirmed.

“At this point, there are three realistic candidates: Hachimura, Vanderbilt and Taurean Prince.”

Hachimura was acquired during the 2022-23 season and became a trusted member of the rotation quickly. The 25-year-old helped the Lakers rally to reach the postseason and go all the way to the 2023 Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets. He re-signed as a restricted free agent this offseason.

Vanderbilt also was an in-season addition and key playoff contributor. The 24-year-old was rewarded with a contract extension this offseason.

Among the three competing for the final starting spot, Prince is the only newcomer to the roster, signing a one-year contract after playing last season for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Hachimura was a starter for the Washington Wizards early in his career. Vanderbilt was primarily a starter for one season with the Timberwolves. Prince has been primarily a reserve since the 2019-20 season but did start 82 games for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2017-18 campaign.

“The Lakers have been mixing up their lineups in scrimmages, experimenting with different players at small forward,” wrote Buha. “Vanderbilt was the primary fifth starter on the first day, with Prince being more involved with the starters on the second day, according to team sources. Hachimura, who entered camp as the favorite for the position given his considerable playoff progress, is expected to get a serious shot in camp as well.”

The Lakers also added Gabe Vincent, Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood this offseason, which arguably was among the most successful in the NBA. They are well-positioned to again contend for the NBA championship with James and Davis leading the way.

The 38-year-old superstar is showing athleticism and burst as he seems fully recovered from the foot injury that hampered him late last season. Also, his 30-year-old running mate reportedly is in excellent shape. To that end, Davis has vowed to not leave everything up to James this season.

With three good players for the Lakers to choose from, there would seem to be no wrong answer for who the fifth starter will be. The roles also could change throughout the season as they pursue the NBA title.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. He remembers the birth of "Showtime" and has always admired the star power the Lakers have brought to the game.