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The battles
by Sam Amico / October 1, 2006

For some players, training camp is a formality. They don’t need to worry about impressing the coach or playing time. They are the veterans and superstars of the NBA. Even when they’re bad, they’re still better than everyone else (read: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, etcetera).

But for many others, training camp means everything. If you are one of those players, now is the time to establish yourself. It’s a time to show the coaches that you’re more than a big-name free agent, or a rookie from a high-profile college program, or another guy from basketball’s bush leagues who is merely trying to make the cut.

Mostly, it’s a time to prove to the world that you shouldn’t be kept off the court, no matter what. That you are that good.

To see how important training camp really is, look no further than the situation in Cleveland nearly 20 years ago. It was 1987, and Mark Price was a second-year point guard with the Cavaliers. The team had just selected California point guard Kevin Johnson with a lottery pick. Price and Johnson went head-to-head in camp, fighting for the starting spot. And as Johnson once said, “Mark simply refused to be denied; he dominated.” That led to a midseason trade that sent Johnson to Phoenix. Both became All-Stars and regular members of the All-NBA teams.

In other words, the outcome of individual training camp battles can completely alter the course of a career and a franchise – and have a dramatic effect on league history.

Here are 10 to battles keep an eye on entering the 2006-07 season:

10. Jay Williams vs. Marcus Williams, New Jersey. As far as first-round picks go, it’s been a tough few months for Marcus Williams. First, he falls out of the lottery to the Nets at No. 22. Then the Nets tell everyone how fired up they are that he’ll be Jason Kidd’s backup at point guard. Then they go out and sign Jay Williams, a former lottery pick who sat out for the past three years following a motorcycle accident. It’s hard to believe Jay Williams could be anywhere near the level of player he once was. But if he is, only one Williams will likely remain as Kidd’s caddy after the All-Star break.

9. Marvin Williams vs. Shelden Williams, Atlanta. Granted, Marvin Williams is more of a swing forward, while Shelden Williams is pretty much glued to the low post, more of an undersized center than power forward. Still, someone will need to take all those minutes left by Al Harrington (traded to Indiana). And while Shelden Williams is the rookie and Marvin Williams is the second-year player, Shelden is actually three years older. Plus, there’s the fact they were on opposite ends of college basketball’s greatest rivalry, with Marvin a North Carolina product and Shelden hailing from Duke.

8. JJ Redick vs. Keith Bogans, Orlando. No it doesn’t sound like much of a battle, considering Redick is lottery pick and Bogans has played OK for mostly bad teams during his young career. But if the Magic are to build on last season’s outstanding finish, they need a steady perimeter guy to complement Dwight Howard’s dominance down low and Jameer Nelson’s penetration. Redick won’t be handed the starting job, regardless of status. And Bogans returned to Orlando from Charlotte with the idea of starting in mind. It will be interesting to see who emerges for opening day.

7. Kevin Martin vs. the rest of the Kings shooting guards, Sacramento. Martin played well enough at the end of last season for the Kings to let Bonzi Wells walk. Wells is now gone (to Houston) and Martin has emerged as the frontrunner to replace him. Not bad for a little-known third-year guy out of Western Carolina. But not all of the Kings’ men have been so quick to concede the starting two-guard role to Martin. Rookie Quincy Douby, second-year swingman Francisco Garcia, and newcomer John Salmons each could get the inside track with a strong preseason.

6. Rafer Alston vs. John Lucas III. Call it the streetball legend versus the son of a legend. Or more accurately, the point guard with whom the Rockets haven’t been particularly pleased (Alston) versus the up-and-coming former D-League stud (Lucas). There have been reports that many in the Rockets camp are secretly rooting for Lucas, simply because he appears to be a more willing distributor and better all-around teammate. Mostly, the Rockets wanted someone who could push Alston into becoming a strong starting point guard – and not just a very good backup who happens to start.

5. Dajuan Wagner vs. Monta Ellis, Golden State. Wagner is a former lottery pick who is returning to the league shortly after having his colon removed. There was never any doubting his World B. Free-like firepower when healthy. Meanwhile, Ellis proved to be a rookie steal after entering the draft out of high school and slipping to the second round. The Warriors are hoping one can step up and provide points off the bench right away. In case neither do, expect Devin Brown, acquired from Utah in the Derek Fisher trade, to be Jason Richardson’s primary backup.

4. Raymond Felton vs. Brevin Knight, Charlotte. Yes, this will be Felton’s job someday – but not quite yet. Knight has been on the brink of NBA extinction, having played for six teams in seven seasons before finding a home with the Bobcats. Regardless of Felton’s outstanding ability and reputation, Knight isn’t about to just give up the idea of starting. At the very least, Knight wants regular minutes. If he doesn’t get them, he’ll be traded by midseason and most likely sooner.

3. Jordan Farmar vs. Smush Parker, Los Angeles Lakers. Point guard has never been the most important position in Phil Jackson’s Triangle scheme – as he has won titles with non-traditional point men like John Paxson and Ron Harper bringing the ball up the floor. What the offense does call for is someone who can make an open jumper consistently and who understands how to win. Farmar fits those descriptions better than Parker, but Parker is a better defender and plays with more fire. Plus, Parker has a year’s worth of experience knowing what Jackson and Kobe Bryant expect. Then again, that will mean little if Farmar can overcome the plight of most rookies and play well on a regular basis.

2. Sebastian Telfair vs. Delonte West vs. Rajon Rondo, Boston. You would think Rondo is the odd man out, considering he’s the rookie. But the Celtics wouldn’t have drafted him if they had been happy with West. Nor would they have acquired Telfair. So does that mean West is headed elsewhere? Read any Celtics message board, and even the fans who usually have all the answers seem confused about this one. That is why this training camp is so important for the Celtics – with the winner of this tug-of-war being deemed the team’s point guard of the future. The other two could be gone by season’s end.

1. Jason Terry vs. Devin Harris, Dallas. The Mavericks had every reason to allow Terry to walk and hand the team over to Harris. That’s because Terry was a free agent this past offseason, and at the very least, the Mavs could have used him as sign-and-trade bait. Harris certainly played well enough in the playoffs to have justified such a move. Instead, the Mavs signed Terry to a new deal and decided to continue their double-point-guard approach – which was a big reason they were able to reach the Finals. But Terry and Harris are both intense competitors, and more importantly, they’re human. And just like anyone who has the talent, they both want to be The Man when it comes to running the Mavs’ offense. This training camp will go a long way in showing who really is.

Sam Amico is the editor or ProBasketballNews.com

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