Shortly after LeBron James committed to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team added Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee in free agency and re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
In all, the moves didn’t seem to make much sense if the core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart will be moving forward with the team.
Rondo and Stephenson are both playmakers and thrive with the ball in their hands. Since Ball will also see a lot of minutes, it didn’t make much initial sense to presumably take the ball out of LeBron’s hands in the first place.
McGee was signed after the Lakers used their first-round pick on big man Moritz Wagner. Caldwell-Pope had a decent, but inconsistent season for the Lakers last year.
But, like everything that’s been done during the Magic Johnson/Rob Pelinka era, there’s a specific reason that the moves were made.
And, it has nothing to do with offense.
The grit factor
“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 of one of the reasons for the construction of the Lakers’ current roster, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. “It is certainly part of the equation. … [President of basketball operations] 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.”
There’s no denying that the three free agents and Caldwell-Pope all possess defensive intensity and toughness. That, according to Pelinka, is the recipe for success as a team.
“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 [Bryant]’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.”
Pelinka also found worth in the newcomers’ ability to get under the skin of their opponents.
“And we identified with, if you look at KCP was a guy that is a tough defender and shooter, Josh Hart has proven to be a pit bull of a defender and can make shots, Rondo historically has been a tenacious, tough guy, steals. We wanted that mentality and we identified it. Lance Stephenson, he will agitate you, he will get under you, he will cause you to get out of your game and can play in the open court and score,” Pelinka explained.
There will most likely be a lot of experimentation as far as rotations and playing time are concerned, but by now, we should probably all know not to count out LeBron, who’s advanced to eight-straight NBA Finals.