After the Golden State Warriors edged out the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals this past season before winning their third title in four years, the Los Angeles Lakers knew that they needed to switch up their approach against the defending champs. When the Rockets’ model of building an offense to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors failed, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and president of basketball operations Magic Johnson believed that the way to beat Golden State was through defense.
However, once LeBron James signed a four-year contract earlier this month, the expectation was that the Lakers would follow a blueprint similar to his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and get a bunch of shooters to surround The King. Then, L.A. inked JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Rajon Rondo to deals, and re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Aside from maybe Caldwell-Pope, none of those players have been known for their shooting. What were Pelinka and Magic thinking? According to the Lakers’ GM, it was all part of their plan. "No one is going to beat them at their own game. That’s why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth, and try to look at areas where we’ll have an advantage," he explained at a press conference, per Lakers Nation.
In this year’s Finals, McGee rose to the occasion when he got switched onto LeBron. It was an incredibly small sample size, but maybe it was all that the Lakers’ front office needed to see. Even though the role of centers like McGee is diminishing in this small ball era, the Lakers believe that JaVale gives them intensity and enough quickness to combat instances when opposing teams try to exploit him as the weak link.
When describing Stephenson, Pelinka used the word "agitator." James can attest to that assessment of Born Ready. Lance has never been afraid to mix it up with anyone, and the Lakers can use someone with that type of mentality against a Warriors lineup that features Draymond Green who carries a similar demeanor. Throughout the Warriors’ second-round series with the New Orleans Pelicans, the person picked on most by Golden State’s lengthy players was Rondo. At 6-foot-1, Rajon is small in stature, but he is the furthest thing from a pushover.
The Lakers’ signings this summer haven’t looked anything like the ones executed by the Cavaliers in previous years. It’s a radical approach, but probably a welcomed one by James. After all, the rosters that his former team were putting out couldn’t get the job done against the Warriors in three of the last four years.