Malone is still solidifying Kings' starting lineup

10/25/2013 12:00 AM

10/01/2014 1:38 PM

This isn't a new problem for a Kings coach, especially in recent seasons.

How does Michael Malone decide on a starting lineup when "we have no clear-cut favorite at four spots" heading into the preseason finale tonight at the Los Angeles Clippers?

Malone will use tonight's game to cement those decisions before the regular-season opener Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets and map out a plan going forward.

After much complaining about rotations and lineups last season, the Kings appear to be in a situation where they will have defined roles to start the season, even if the coach hasn't decided on the rotation.

Malone did offer this after Thursday's light practice before the Kings left for Los Angeles: "I have a pretty good indication what I'm going to do with four of the five spots right now."

He said tonight's starters won't be an indication of who will start against the Nuggets. Instead, it will be a chance for more analysis of the roster.

"It's just trying to figure out what gives us the best lineup, and just as important, which group off our bench gives us a lift and energy and spark to close out quarters and start the next quarter," Malone said. "It's been tough – harder than I anticipated in terms of finding out who our starting five is going to be."

The only starting spot that's obvious is DeMarcus Cousins at center.

The position with the most possibilities is shooting guard, where Marcus Thornton will start tonight. He and Jimmer Fredette have taken turns starting there, with rookie Ben McLemore making a strong case he shouldn't come off the bench.

Greivis Vasquez could unseat Isaiah Thomas as the starting point guard.

Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson are vying for the starting job at power forward.

With Luc Mbah a Moute missing most of the preseason because of a sore right knee, John Salmons and Travis Outlaw have made their case to start at small forward.

"It's always good to compete," Salmons said. "That's the whole key to the preseason, but you can't really focus on that. The only thing you can do is get ready to play."

Malone sees his predicament as "good" and "healthy" for the Kings because of the competition. He's not taking the stance that the lack of separation is because of a lack of talent.

"Would you love to have five All-Stars who are our clear-cut starters?" Malone said. "Yeah, and we'd be in a whole other ballgame here. But understanding where we're at as a franchise, I think it's great."

Malone plans to decide on a lineup and rotation and stick to it, playing nine or 10 players early in the season.

That's important when dealing with many players whose big complaint last season was they did not know their role.

"You don't want to change it every night because it's tough for a player to understand," Malone said. "From what I've heard from a lot of guys here in years past, no one knew when they were playing or how much they were going to play, and that made it kind of hard for guys to know what their role was."

Malone doesn't intend to be married to a rotation, planning to let the game dictate if a hot player stays in or if foul trouble forces him to go to a player longer than normal.

"Sometimes it's not all about starting," Thompson said. "You could be starting and only play 10 or 15 minutes. Just hearing your name called at the beginning of the game doesn't mean anything. You want to be there at the end of the game. You want to be there to help your team out offensively and defensively."

It's Malone's job to figure out who will be.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

In the Kings' game tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers:

Point guard approach: Greivis Vasquez had six turnovers and Isaiah Thomas had four in Wednesday's preseason win. Regardless of who starts, the Kings need to take better care of the ball.

Complementing Cousins: Jason Thompson has played alongside DeMarcus Cousins as a pro while Patrick Patterson played alongside Cousins in college. Who fits best tonight could solidify the starting power forward job.

Off guard watch: Marcus Thornton will start at shooting guard tonight. Jimmer Fredette also could see playing time, along with rookie Ben McLemore. The competition for playing time has been close throughout training camp.

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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