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Lakers insist they’re trying to compete with Warriors

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The Warriors were already historically great, and then they signed DeMarcus Cousins. If all goes well, they could be the greatest team of all-time. Their floor is championship favorite.

Plenty of teams seem content to wait out Golden State.

Does that include the Lakers?

They have LeBron James locked up three more years, and he doesn’t seem to be demanding urgency. Their other signings – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee – are for one-year deals designed to maximize long-term flexibility. Los Angeles hasn’t flipped any of its top young players – Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart – or future first-round picks for immediate upgrades.

But the Lakers say they’ve designed this roster specifically to compete with the Warriors.

Lakers general manager Pelinka, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“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 many reasons for the construction of the Lakers’ current roster. “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.”

“We did not want to go out and just sign specialists, ‘Oh, this guy can just shoot,'” Pelinka said. “We wanted tough two-way players that can defend with a level of toughness and also make shots. Listen, the road to the NBA championship has to go through the team that won last year, and we all know the guys up north have a special group. But one of the ways to attack what they have is with defensive toughness. I think we saw that in the Houston series with some of the players that Houston has.

This is intentionally different than the approach the Cavaliers took with LeBron. They prioritized offense and surrounded him with shooters. That left Cleveland short against Golden State the last couple years, and the Lakers are trying something different.

But the Lakers will run into the same problem the Cavs did: Their players just aren’t good enough. Rondo’s best defensive days are long behind him. Stephenson and McGee are good in moments, spacy in others. Caldwell-Pope is a good perimeter defender but struggles when switching inside or against bigger wings.

It’s not as much style as ability. The Rockets had way better players, which is why they came closer than anyone to beating the Kevin Durant Warriors in the playoffs.

The Lakers shouldn’t completely give up on this season. They have LeBron, and he alone gives them a chance. More importantly now, he provides the them a chance to build a more serious contender in future years.

But it’s tough to buy the Lakers’ stated plan for this season.

LeBron James signs four-year, $153 million contract to join Lakers

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We’ve known this since LeBron James let it be known he was going to the Lakers back on July 1, rocking the NBA world.

Now it is official — LeBron has signed with the Lakers.

That is a four-year, $153 million contract with a player option in the fourth year.

“Today is a great day for the Lakers organization and Lakers fans all over the world to welcome LeBron James, a three-time NBA Champion and four-time NBA MVP,” Lakers President of Basketball Operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson said in a statement. “LeBron is special. He is the best player in the world. He loves to compete and is an awesome leader who is about winning and making sure that his teammates are successful. The Lakers players are excited to have a teammate who has been to nine NBA Finals. It’s a huge step closer to returning the Lakers to the playoffs and to the NBA Finals.”

The Lakers are closer to returning to the NBA Finals, but they are not there. Yet. LeBron’s signing further stacks the Western Conference and puts the Lakers back into the national spotlight, but the roster around him is not going to threaten Golden State or Houston as currently constructed.

The Lakers have a solid young core led by Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma. To that, Magic and GM Rob Pelinka have added Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and JaVale McGee. That’s a lot of big personalities, a lot of guys who are considered playmakers (but aren’t consistent at it), not a lot of shooting and not a lot of consistent defenders. All of which is to say, the Lakers are a good team, a playoff team, but nowhere near a contender yet.

What the Lakers have done is left themselves a lot of flexibility — Rondo, KCP, Stephenson, and McGee are one-year deals. Whether by a trade or next summer in free agency, the Lakers are poised to land another superstar or two who can pair with LeBron and turn this team into a threat to the Warriors. For all the spin about playmakers and competing, the Lakers are about being in position to add an elite player or two. That’s what matters. After that, the rest of the roster can be filled in.

LeBron gave the Lakers four years, which gives Magic/Pelinka time to get that star without overpaying (for example, sending all their good young players to San Antonio now for Kawhi Leonard). They can be smart and patient.

We’ll see if that pays off, and how patient Laker nation — and LeBron — can be.

Rajon Rondo expects to ‘win now’ with LeBron James, Lakers

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LAS VEGAS — Rajon Rondo officially joined the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday with a clear idea about his future with LeBron James.

“We’re expected to win now,” Rondo said.

Rondo agreed to a one-year deal worth $9 million earlier this week to suit up alongside James, whose signing hasn’t yet been announced by the Lakers.

The veteran point guard is eager to be a mentor to Lonzo Ball, and he sees a chance for immediate success with the thoroughly revamped club. The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs for a franchise-record five consecutive seasons, but Rondo believes they’ll make immediate strides back toward contention for a 17th NBA championship.

“You put any group of players around LeBron James, as he has done (eight) straight times, he went to the finals,” Rondo said. “So my expectations are the exact same thing. Even with the Warriors adding (DeMarcus Cousins) and the Rockets being who they are, I think we fit right up there in the mix. It is early, obviously, and I’m not promising anything, but at the end of the day, I expect to win. Nothing else.”

Rondo is a familiar figure to Lakers fans, and not necessarily in a good way. He played a major role for the Celtics when they met the Lakers in the NBA Finals, winning a ring with Boston in 2008 and losing to LA in 2010.

Seeing Rondo on the other side of that enduring NBA rivalry won’t be as weird to Rondo as it might be to some Lakers fans.

“Does it feel strange? Um, no,” Rondo said. “My battles with the Lakers were over a decade ago, and none of the players I was battling with are on the same roster.”

The 32-year-old Rondo expressed no concerns about playing with Ball, the precocious passer chosen by the Lakers with the second overall pick in last year’s draft. Ball will be sidelined for most of the summer with a torn meniscus in his left knee, but Rondo is eager to work on their chemistry in the fall.

“I’m excited to get a player that age and try to help him as much as I can,” said Rondo, a starter for all but small portions of his first 12 NBA seasons spent with five franchises.

Rondo sees the Lakers’ potential surplus of ball-handlers as an advantage. He isn’t worried about finding roles for everyone in coach Luke Walton’s up-tempo offense, which is designed to create plenty of offensive chances for every player.

“It will be very versatile, and I don’t think you’ll be able to scout and stick to one game plan as far as being able to stop a certain player,” Rondo said. “I think guys like LeBron or myself, I haven’t played with a lot of guys that make plays for me. So it’s going to be exciting to be able to just get up, get a couple of easy looks, be able to push the pace in the open court.”

The Lakers also announced the re-signing of guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who got a one-year deal worth $12 million to provide a perimeter shooting threat to an offense that could still use more outside shooters.

The Lakers haven’t yet announced the acquisitions of James or veterans Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee during a thorough makeover following the worst half-decade in franchise history.

 

Report: Lakers prioritizing ‘tough-minded playmakers’ who’ll allow LeBron James to post up more

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After adding LeBron James, the Lakers have since agreed to sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo.

What the heck are the Lakers doing?

Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Cavs were a team of specialists — many of them shooters — who were placed around the league’s ultimate Swiss Army knife. But at times, especially during the playoffs, it did have the feel that James was playing 1-on-5 and needing to play 48 minutes because he was the team’s only true creator and playmaker.

Cleveland also prioritized shooters and offense-minded players ahead of defenders and steadily sunk in the defensive rankings over the past three seasons, bottoming out as the No. 29 defensive efficiency team last season. This became a liability at times, particularly against the juggernaut Warriors.

What Johnson pitched to James was a team stocked with tough-minded playmakers like Stephenson and Rondo who could free up James to finish in the lanes and from the post, rather than having to create the lion’s share of the offense himself. Rondo and Stephenson are also defensively versatile as their length enables them to be effective defenders in switches. That also follows with the talents of the 6-foot-6 Ball, who showed the ability to be an elite rebounder and defender for a guard in his rookie year.

James, who will turn 34 in December, had studied the careers of all-time greats such as Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and noted how they moved from the wing to the post as they approached their mid-30s.

Playing more like Bryant and Jordan will take time and patience and James told Johnson that some habits will be hard to break, sources said. But James knows moving to playing more inside and giving up some control of the ball is important as he ages and his athleticism starts to fade.

Maybe the idea is playing in the post on this team will ideally train LeBron for the new challenge. If he can do it with the poor spacing Los Angeles will have next year, he can do it in any system. It’s like a donut on a baseball bat in the on-deck circle.

But I fear the Lakers believe this iteration will work.

It’ll be an uphill battle.

Lebron needn’t be his only team’s playmaker, but he’s arguably the greatest playmaker of all-time. Taking the ball out of his hands is self-defeating in the micro.

In the macro, perhaps that’ll allow him to preserve energy. LeBron reportedly wants to play off the ball more.

If that allows him to expend more energy on defense, it could pay off. The Cavaliers’ defense was awful, and LeBron’s laziness on that end factored both directly and indirectly, setting a tone for his teammates. Given LeBron’s massive offensive burden, that approach made some sense. But it had major drawbacks.

The problem now: Rondo and Stephenson aren’t good enough.

Their defensive reputations far exceed their production anymore. Stephenson has struggled outside Indiana, and Rondo dials it up only in the playoffs.

Rondo remains a plus-passer, and Stephenson brings creativity offensively. But it’ll be harder for both to operate on this spacing-challenged team. And they’ll be taking the ball from LeBron freaking James.

I’m also skeptical this is a massive departure from LeBron’s situation in Cleveland. The Cavs were at their best when surrounding LeBron with specialists. But they also spent enough time last season partnering LeBron with another ball-dominant perimeter player – Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade or Jordan Clarkson – to expose the failings of those lineups.

The Lakers are definitely prioritizing more defense, and their experiment deserves a chance to unfold. But I’m doubtful.

At least the Lakers have the young players (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart) and cap space next summer to re-tool if this plan fails.

Report: Lakers passed on Cousins because they didn’t want to wait on his return

Associated Press
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DeMarcus Cousins went to the Warriors for the shockingly low price of the taxpayer mid-level exception, $5.3 million, for just one season. That led to fans of a lot of teams saying “why didn’t we try to get him at that price?” Because he wouldn’t come to your team at that price — the Warriors offered the chance to rehab his Achilles, his reputation, and maybe win a ring at that price. What other team could offer all that at that price?

Maybe the Lakers. However, Los Angeles chose not to go that direction.

Why? Because Los Angeles couldn’t wait until mid-season when Cousins would be healthy and ready to go, sources told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Cousins says he plans to be ready by the start of the NBA season, and he is putting in the work. However, history suggests Christmas would be the soonest we will see him. The Warriors can afford to be patient.

If the Lakers want to be competitive fast they have done a poor job of building the rest of that roster around LeBron James. Forget the personality challenges, the Lakers’ roster does not have near enough shooting. If LeBron  has the ball in the half-court every team will help off Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball (Ball is a better catch-and-shoot guy than some think, but when contested his jumper is still an issue). Lance Stephenson shot 28.9 percent from three last season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma are their floor spacers, but this is a team that is going to see opponents pack the paint.

The Lakers were a solid defensive team last season (12th in the NBA) and LeBron can help with that when focused on that end. However, Rondo and Stephenson do not help much there, nor is McGree much of a rim protector.

The Lakers are going to be better next season, a competitive team, a playoff team with this roster, probably around 50 wins. But in the West, that likely lands them a four or five seed, maybe they can get up to third, but that’s betting a lot on improvement from Ball/Kuzma/Brandon Ingram to go with LeBron.

Was all that worth not getting Boogie?

What the Lakers have done is remained flexible, to go after stars via trade during the season or free agency next season. They are in position to build a contender.