Basketball: The end of assurance for Breakers starters

By Kris Shannon

Darnell Lazare. Photo / Getty Images.
Darnell Lazare. Photo / Getty Images.

The days of a rigid starting five at the Breakers may be coming to an end.

While the lineup in the final days of Andrej Lemanis' reign was as predictable as Tom Abercrombie finishing off a lob pass, new coach Dean Vickerman has pledged his team sheet will be a little more fluid.

That's of little surprise, really, considering the development of one player and the recruitment of another, and no team has ever suffered from a bit of healthy competition for starting places.

Though they hardly seem to be a group in need of motivation, that competition can only aid the Breakers' search for an unprecedented fourth straight Australian NBL title when the season tips off next month.

It may be tempting for Vickerman to pencil in the same names - with one American point guard replacing another, of course - when Wollongong visit Vector Arena in round one and, indeed, that is the most likely scenario.

But Darnell Lazare wasn't recruited to ride the pine fulltime and Corey Webster's hot hand could become too hard to ignore, giving Vickerman no choice but to leave the door open now he's been handed the keys.

``I've never been that strict on starting fives,'' he said. ``It may change throughout the season if we think we've got a mismatch in different areas. We've got a lot of people pushing for starting spots and that's a positive thing.''

That may mean, as unthinkable as the idea seems, Lazare stealing the starting spot of Mika Vukona or Alex Pledger, even if only for a game or two. Or, perhaps more probable, it could see Webster force his way into the team at the expense of Daryl Corletto, just as the Australian usurped CJ Bruton at the start of last season.

Webster does seem primed for something of a breakout season. A streak scorer, much like Corletto, the 24-year-old Kiwi would provide a nice complement to new import Kerron Johnson in the Breakers' back-court.

The Tall Black impressed in the recent series against Australia, and he demonstrated time and again towards the end of last season the ability to take over games. Webster's nickname may be `the Microwave' for the ability the instantly heat up but Vickerman may come to see him as more of an oven - a slow burn which, in the end, produces the best results.

Lazare, too, provides an intriguing headache in the battle of the bigs. Where Will Hudson was brought in with the sole purpose of backing up Alex Pledger at centre, Lazare offers much more at both ends of the floor.

Last season for the Sydney Kings, the 28-year-old found himself inside the league's top 25 for scoring - with his 11.3 points per game better than every Breaker not named Cedric Jackson - and his 7.2 rebounds a game ranked him sixth and behind only Pledger on the Breakers' roster.

``We didn't recruit Lazare to come in and say he's coming off the bench,'' Vickerman said. ``You come into the Breakers, and whatever's best for the group will be who starts the season. The players will decide that through the preseason.''

The first of seven preseason games is against Melbourne on September 10 and, as the month develops, so too may Vickerman's thinking.


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