Having shaken up the NBA by successfully recruiting LeBron James on the first day of free agency, the Lakers followed it up by adding Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and, most recently, Rajon Rondo. Those subsequent moves raise one important question: LeBron is aware the Lakers did that, right?
It’s worth asking because, in the past, those players’ relationships with James have ranged from occasional irritants to outright nemeses. And that’s before we discuss how they might — or might not — mesh on the court with the former Cavaliers superstar.
Actually, let’s start there since it relates to much of the confusion generated Monday by the news that the Lakers had agreed to a one-year, million deal with Rondo. While the 32-year-old point guard experienced something of a renaissance last season with the Pelicans and meets James’ expressed preference for teammates who play with intelligence, he won’t have the ball in his hands as much as he would like. Further, his three-point shooting has only improved to the point where it could reasonably be described as below average.
That would seem to be a problem, because as the NBA has embraced the small-ball era, James’s playmaking abilities have been best complemented by teammates proficient at shooting from beyond the arc. If Rondo comes up short in that regard, though, he is positively Curry-esque compared to Stephenson, who owns a gruesome 30.3 career shooting percentage from three-point range, including just 28.9 on 232 attempts last season.
What both Rondo and Stephenson do bring to the table is defensive tenacity, as well as playoff experience, a valuable commodity given the youthfulness of the Lakers and James’s annual designs on trips to the NBA Finals. Of course, the pair’s many postseason runs have included numerous showdowns as opponents of James when he played for the Cavs and Heat, including the unforgettable moment in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals when Stephenson blew in a certain someone’s ear.
Over the years, Stephenson also got under James’s skin by getting in his face during playoff games, in addition to flopping and, on at least one occasion, making the “choke” sign. For Rondo’s part, when he was a member of the Celtics, James was such a hated rival that Rondo and teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce ostracized Ray Allen for years, with bad blood continuing to this day, after Allen left Boston to join James in Miami.
McGee doesn’t have quite the same history with James, but he did apparently get on the latter’s bad side enough to have been blocked by James on Instagram. A solid shot-blocker in his own right, as well as an athlete who can flash to the basket in the pick-and-roll, McGee would seem to complement James’s playing style well enough, but he is just one for 15 in his career from three-point range. As for his basketball IQ, three words should suffice: Shaqtin’. A. Fool.
On the other hand, all three players have reportedly agreed to sign for just one year each and on cheap deals at that, particularly in the cases of Stephenson and McGee, so Los Angeles hasn’t made major investments and is keeping roster flexibility for next summer’s free agent crop. Rondo could also be an excellent tutor for Lonzo Ball, last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick who shares many of the veteran’s traits, including slick passing skills and … an alarming inability to shoot well.
So that, again, wouldn’t seem to bode well for the assemblage of a proper supporting cast for James, but, as many have speculated, Ball may not be long for the roster. The Lakers could be planning on including him in a deal for more experienced help, which would go much of the way toward explaining the acquisition of Rondo.
Los Angeles has already parted ways with one of its prominent young players, renouncing the rights Monday to Julius Randle, the seventh overall pick in 2014 who reportedly has agreed to join the Pelicans. More could follow if the Lakers make a trade with the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard, with the likes of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma possibly on the table.
In the meantime, after conducting a youth movement over the past few years, Los Angeles is following up the addition of the 33-year-old James by getting older in other parts of the roster. It lebron remains to be seen what else the team is getting, but it should be very interesting to watch.
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