The Los Angeles Lakers opened the NBA free agency period by agreeing to sign LeBron James to a four-year, $153.5 million contract. And then they preceded to surround the best player in basketball with a number of veteran players who don’t quite seem to fit the mold of a championship team in today’s NBA.
Los Angeles agreed to terms with guards Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo, as well as center JaVale McGee. They also agreed to re-sign guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Rondo and Stephenson are tenacious defenders but don’t exactly give the Lakers the spacing around James he became accustomed to in Cleveland. And while Caldwell-Pope shot well from distance last year, he’s not exactly the going to scare the top-tier teams in the league.
But general manager Rob Pelinka explained the team’s strategy at a press conference Wednesday, noting the Lakers didn’t want to fall into the same “trap” that other teams do when trying to beat the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
“If your goal is to win a championship, you’ve got to look at the way the champs are assembled and how you can give yourself the best chance to take them down,” Pelinka said, via ESPN. “Earvin (Johnson) and I had a conversation and LeBron echoed this sentiment: I think to try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap. No one is going to beat them at their own game, so that is why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth and try to look at areas where we will have an advantage.”
Pelinka especially noted Stephenson’s ability to agitate opponents as something that could play in the Lakers’ favor down the road.
“If you study championship and playoff teams of the past, if you look at Michael Jordan having a player like Dennis Rodman, look at Kobe’s teams with Metta (World Peace), having a tough player that brings an edge to the game like Lance is a really nice ingredient,” Pelinka said. “That, I think, with LeBron’s leadership will pervade to our young core as well and just give them a sense of swagger and toughness.”
And about the perceived lack of shooting? Pelinka thinks that’s overblown.
“To me, that’s a little bit of a misnomer because again we wanted a particular type of shooter. When we looked at the free-agent list, the elite shooters … guys who have had max deals as shooters are in the 38 to 42 percent range in 3-point shooting. I’m talking elite shooters. If you look at last year, Josh Hart shot 40 percent. Brandon Ingram shot (39 percent). KCP had a career year at almost 39 percent and I feel like he’s gonna have an even better year. LeBron shot 37 percent, Kyle Kuzma 37 percent.”
Will it be enough to take down the champs? It seems doubtful, but never count James out.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images