EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Saying that the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t want to fall into “the trap” of trying to beat the Golden State Warriors at their own offensively loaded game, general manager Rob Pelinka said the Lakers’ goal in free agency was to purposely build a team “very differently than the past ones” surrounding LeBron James.
In a clear departure from how the Cleveland Cavaliers surrounded James with perimeter shooters, Pelinka explained Wednesday how the Lakers deliberately added versatile positionless defenders equipped with toughness and playoff experience to play around James in an effort to combat the defending champs.
“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. “It is certainly part of the equation. … 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.”
After James committed to the Lakers early in free agency, they quickly added the likes of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee while re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They seemed to load up on versatile playmakers who are tenacious defenders and add playoff experience to a young, growing core that includes Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart.
The way the Lakers’ management envisions it, coach Luke Walton has several versatile, multidimensional pieces that can defend, play multiple positions and create opportunities for others.
“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.
“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 pitbull 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 also made it clear that the four starting spots around James will be open to competition. That means Rondo and Ball will be competing for the starting point guard spot.
“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. “Obviously LeBron James is going to be a starter but the other four spots is going to be an open training camp decision … we are going to play fast … you can imagine lineups on the court where everyone is 6-7, 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.”
Ball has been nursing a torn meniscus in his left knee. While the Lakers would not comment on Ball’s injury, Pelinka did say that the expectation is Ball will be ready for the start of the season.
“I’ll just say I know he’s evaluating with his management team a number of things,” Pelinka said. “The good news is all the things they’re evaluating as his options have him 100 percent ready for training camp. … We’re just excited to know he’s going to be 100 percent available from training camp.”