- The Los Angeles Lakers signed players like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee in free agency, building a team around LeBron James that confused the NBA world.
- Lakers GM Rob Pelinka explained recently that each of those players had qualities he wanted next to James and the Lakers’ young core, and that he wanted to build a team dissimilar to the Golden State Warriors.
- There is still some question about how the team will fare in the playoffs.
- With the Lakers’ offseason additions playing on one-year deals, the team may end up being a one-year surprise or a predictable squad for one season until they re-load next summer.
With NBA training camps just around the corner, the basketball world will be eagerly watching how the Los Angeles Lakers come together.
After landing LeBron James in free agency, the Lakers proceeded in an unusual way, adding players like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee to join a young, promising core of players.
Unlike the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat teams James won championships on, the Lakers had assembled a roster of players who struggle to shoot, like to handle the ball, and defend only occasionally – how would they fit next to James?
On Tuesday, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka explained the seemingly head-scratching moves during a sit-down with Lakers president Jeannie Buss, head coach Luke Walton, and team broadcasters John Ireland and Mychal Thompson. Pelinka explained that he didn’t want to construct a roster that looked like the Golden State Warriors.
“There’s a team in the way of [winning championships] right now. There’s a team that’s won three of the last four,” Pelinka said. “And we felt like, to build a team to just try to play their style of basketball is a trap. You can’t beat them at their own game.”
Pelinka also explained that Rondo, Stephenson, and McGee all had qualities the Lakers thought would fit well with James and their young players, including Lonzo Ball.
“When you look at guys like Rajon Rondo, he’s a basketball savant. All the players in the league know that. He was on our court a day ago, and I was watching from my office, he was working on one play for two hours. That’s that Kobe [Bryant] level of detail and breaking down plays.
“Lance Stephenson, he brings that sort of swagger and toughness from the East coast, New York City, Rucker Park. He’s been in here the last couple of days, just talking a lot, bringing energy to the practice.
“JaVale McGee, we felt like he was a big that could just run with Lonzo and Rondo when they’re pushing pace and would just keep the floor energized and protect the rim.”
During free agency, a report from ESPN said the Lakers didn’t want to be the Cavs West – they wanted to build their style of team, targeting things like ball-handling and toughness. They also reportedly want James to play out of the post more, which would ease the ball-handling duties on him and change the shape of the floor.
As former Cavs GM David Griffin argued, however, that plan may not work so well in the playoffs. While easing the load on James may be smart in the regular season, in the playoffs, Griffin argued, you want James to have the ball because no one can stop him. By surrounding James with players who can’t space the floor, it may clog the offense and force James to do more, since he’ll have a harder time setting up shots for teammates.
The Lakers may even have a plan in mind for that – they reportedly have their version of a “death” lineup, which includes James playing center, surrounding by Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. Like-sized players who can spread the floor and attack off the dribble, resembling a more modern approach to the game.
There is also the short-term nature of it. Rondo, Stephenson, McGee, and other offseason additions, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Michael Beasley, all signed one-year deals. The Lakers are expected to go into free agency next year with max cap space to try and attract a second star to play with James.
There is indeed logic to the Lakers’ team-building. With preseason games a month away, it’s possible the front office makes the rest of the NBA world look foolish for its confusion, or it’s possible that the Lakers’ additions will play as predicted.