The Lakers hardly feel settled as they approach their opener Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.
Kobe Bryant continues to monitor the torn ligament in his right wrist. Andrew Bynum acknowledged the team's confusion about Mike Brown's offense. And who knows how much of the roster will remain intact before the March 15 trade deadline?
But there is at least clarity to what the Lakers' starting lineup will look like beginning Christmas Day against the Chicago Bulls. One position wasn't surprising. Free-agent Josh McRoberts will start at power forward, while Pau Gasol plays center during Bynum's four-game suspension. Another position was. Devin Ebanks will start at small forward just four days after Lakers Coach Mike Brown believed Matt Barnes had the "edge."
It turns out Ebanks' 7.5-point average on 77.8% shooting through two exhibition games made quite an impression.
"He didn't turn the ball over," Brown said of Ebanks. "When the ball came his way, he didn't force anything and he knocked down shots. Then he was solid defensively and didn't make any mental mistakes on the defensive end of the floor."
Ebanks' elevated role contrasts his limited role as a rookie last season, when he averaged 3.1 points in 5.9 minutes through 20 appearances.
The Lakers' sending Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks and Metta World Peace's demotion to the bench opened up that spot. But Ebanks' work ethic and off-season work on his shooting has already paid off.
"I'm ready to play either way," Ebanks said. "That was my focus going into training camp. And it's going to continue to be that way. I'm just going to do what I've been doing since training camp. I'm not going to let up on the hard work and things that they want me to do."
Still, Brown made it clear that Ebanks could lose his spot if he makes mistakes or if Barnes elevates his play. After all, Barnes started training camp as the front-runner, but averaged only 1.5 points on 25% shooting and committed a flagrant foul type 1 in the team's second exhibition against Clippers forward Blake Griffin. That's why Brown said he talked with Barnes personally about losing out on the spot and instructed him to remain ready.
"He feels Devin is what the team needs to win," Barnes said. "He's the coach. I'm not going to argue. My job as a veteran is to stay ready, continue to encourage Devin and help him with ins and outs of the game. When my number is called, I'll be ready."
"It's going to suck," Barnes said. "I'm not going to lie to you. It's going to be hard. But I'm here to win a championship. Whatever role that may be from me playing, I'll play to the best of my ability."
For Ebanks, that same approach is what landed him such an opportunity in the first place.
"I just came out here and played every time I was out on the floor," Ebanks said. "The coaches noticed it. So I have the starting job now."
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Photo: Lakers forward Devin Ebanks will start at small forward. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times