Is the Lakers' rotation set yet?
"Um, not even close," Derek Fisher said, smiling.
That's because the Mad Scientist, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, still is in his laboratory tinkering with his formulas.
The team has played eight exhibition games and yet nothing is definitive.
The Lakers open the season tonight at Staples Center against the Portland Trail Blazers, and Monday, Jackson still wasn't forthcoming about his starting lineup.
"No, I won't say I've settled," Jackson said, "but I have a good idea, a real good idea."
With Jackson, it's never good to assume, but the assumption is that Vladimir Radmanovic will start at small forward alongside Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant. The other assumption is that Lamar Odom will come off the bench.
After all, Radmanovic started the last six exhibition games and his outside shooting forces teams to extend their defense.
So, he was asked, does he expect to start tonight?
"Well, I haven't been told differently," Radmanovic said . "I'm expecting to start."
But he also knows Jackson could change the startling lineup during the season.
"I'll try to play good so it doesn't happen," Radmanovic said. "If it happens, I guess somebody else will try to play good to keep it.
"It's good to have competition on your own team. It makes you better. We play hard each and every practice and as long as we have that, we're going to be a better team. We have a lot of guys who can play and whoever is out there on the court will contribute."
Of the 587 NBA regular-season games in which Odom has played during his nine-year career, he has come off the bench only 14 times. Last season he played in 77 regular-season games, all as a starter.
Odom has a new role, something he has warmed up to after initially disliking the concept of being the sixth man.
"All I can do is go play, man," said Odom, who is in the final year of a contract that pays him $11.4 million this season. "Worrying about anything else is just a waste of time. I know I can play.
"I think we're past the point right now of beating each other out for the spot. Our goal is to compete to make each other better."
Defense is key
The Lakers came to training camp with a different mind-set, something that was established by Jackson. There was more emphasis on defense.
"We realize that it's an area that all championship teams are very good in and have been tops in the league in the past," Fisher said.
The Lakers were 19th in points given up (101.3) and sixth in field-goal percentage defense (44.5) last season.
"I think the defense is working real hard," Jackson said. "We still have liabilities in spots. We'll try and cover them. . . . In that regard, we're big and long and that's going to present a problem" for opponents.
To no one's surprise, the Lakers picked up the fourth-year option on Jordan Farmar's contract Monday.
Before Farmar talked to the media, General Manager Mitch Kupchak pulled the 6-foot-1 guard into the training room and informed him that the team had picked up his contract for $1.95 million for the 2009-10 season. Farmar will earn $1.1 million this season.
He led the team in scoring (12.3) and assists (2.8) and shot 58.5% in eight exhibitions.
"I think all the hard work I've always put into this has paid off," Farmar said. "That's very satisfying. Now I've just got to continue keep working."
The Lakers trimmed their roster to 14 players after waiving fan favorite Coby Karl.
Karl overcame long odds to make the team last season as an undrafted rookie from Boise State, but the Lakers chose to keep Sun Yue as an end-of-the-bench guard this season.
The Lakers are now one player short of the NBA maximum 15, leaving open the option of signing a free agent down the road.
As per league rules, only 12 Lakers will suit up for games. Sun won't play tonight against Portland and eventually might be sent down to the D-Fenders, the Lakers' Development League affiliate. Reserve center DJ Mbenga was also listed on the team's inactive list for tonight's game.
Karl, who averaged 1.8 points in 17 games last season, would have earned $712,000 had he still been with the team in mid-January. He received an undisclosed percentage of his salary by taking part in training camp.
"It's a great disappointment," Karl said about getting waived. "I knew it was a possibility, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. It's tough to take. Nobody ever thought I'd make it, but I'm very thankful with the opportunity the Buss family gave me, and Mitch and Coach Jackson."
Karl said he hoped to catch on with another NBA team this season. If not, he hoped to play overseas or for a Development League team.
Though Odom will make $11.4 million this season, his salary-cap number will be $14.1 million, a number that becomes relevant only if the Lakers become involved in trade talks for Odom.
The disparity is because Odom received part of this season's salary as an up-front trade kicker when Miami dealt him to the Lakers in 2004.