For many Los Angeles Lakers fans across the world, the signing of ex-Cleveland Cavaliers superstar forward LeBron James is still going to take some time to fully sink in.
Whether or not the fans love this move of King James’ throne to a new city that the all-time great Kobe Bryant played 20 seasons in is a different story, but James’ addition catapulted this iconic Lakers franchise back into title contention.
After James officially signed his four-year, $154 million contract earlier this week with Los Angeles, there is plenty for basketball fans to reflect on following the flurry of moves the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise has made.
The Lakers kicked off their summer free agency period with a flurry when they added multiple veterans via one-year contracts like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee while re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
These may not be the flashiest signings for Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, but each of these players will play a huge role in Los Angeles’ monumental task of dethroning the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.
“We did not want to go out and just sign specialists, ‘Oh, this guy can just shoot,’ ” Pelinka said on Wednesday during a press conference. “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.”
However, with all of these signings that have happened in such a short amount of time, it is worth noting that the Lakers have not had to unload any of their young talent in a trade to acquire another superstar player like the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard.
Although the Lakers got a handful of players to make a title push in the 2018-19 season, their young core still remains fully intact with the likes of rising star forward Brandon Ingram, guard Lonzo Ball, forward Kyle Kuzma, and guard Josh Hart.
This shows quite a balance of veteran toughness, defensive tenacity, and a plethora of young talent that Pelinka has put together in such a short amount of time.
“We feel like we are going to have an open training camp in terms of competing and figuring out what is that best five to win and go deep into the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to win a championship,” Pelinka said. “We are going to play fast. You can imagine lineups on the court where everyone is 6-[foot-]7, 6-8 or above. Brandon Ingram, LeBron is a positionless player. It is really exciting to think about the length and speed and the way we can play.”
Going blow-for-blow with the sharpshooting offense of the juggernaut Warriors will be an extremely tough task, as the Lakers still have quite a ways to go in terms of improving their perimeter shooting.
The Lakers struggled quite a bit last season in terms of consistency when shooting from behind the arc, as Los Angeles shot just 34.5 percent from three-point range (ranked No. 29 in the NBA) as a team compared to Golden State’s league-best 39.1 percent.
Pelinka doesn’t seem to be sweating too much about it, though, and thinks his Lakers are in good shape for the future.
And as for the narrative that the Lakers don’t have nearly enough perimeter shooting around James after averaging just 34.5 percent from 3-point range — second to last in the NBA last season — Pelinka challenged that notion and said the Lakers have plenty.
“There’s been this kind of surge of ‘Hey, where are the shooters?’ ” Pelinka added. “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. So just because we didn’t sign sort of the poster-child shooter that is a specialist and can just make shots, we felt like we assembled a cast of guys that can really shoot the ball but also defend and be versatile.”
Regardless, this group of Lakers with King James is easily one of the most intriguing squads assembled in the history of the sport. This balanced mix of proven veterans and rising stars is definitely one of the better rosters that James has been surrounded with from top-to-bottom.
They’re not the best team in the NBA right now, nor may they be in the coming years, but they are certainly the most interesting team that the league has to offer by a long shot.
The glamour days of the Lakers are back in session after a little bit of a hiatus, which is a great thing for the NBA as a whole, so be sure to grab plenty of popcorn and enjoy the ride.