That is a good question.
The Lakers, after acquiring LeBron James, subsequently went on to resign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a 1 year $12 million deal and renounced Julius Randle, allowing him to sign as a free agent with the Pelicans. They then followed up those curious moves by signing 1 year free agent deals with Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, and LeBron’s nemesis Lance Stephenson.
At first glance, this looks like the Lakers are just filling up the roster with outcasts and problem teammates. Well, come to think of it, that’s exactly what they are doing. Rondo, McGee, and Stephenson arrive in LA each toting their own duffle bag full of issues. Rondo brings a reputation as a bad teammate and arrogant jerk, Stephenson brings his antics and occasional (regular?) mental lapses, and though he has been a good teammate off the court, we know all about the issues McGee brings on the court from Shaqtin’ a Fool, where he has assembled a 9 minute (!) montage of brain farts over the years.
So what, indeed, is the deal with the new-look Lakers?
After spending some time thinking about it, I have a theory. I think this roster has the makings of a brilliant playoff team designed for competing against one specific team, the Warriors, in one specific way, mentally.
Magic and LeBron have to know they can’t beat the Warriors straight up with these dudes. LeBron needs help. So if you can’t beat them straight up, what do you do? You assemble a collection of misfits that can irritate, annoy, and mentally abuse them. Think about it. If you were going to acquire three guys to make a playoff series a living nightmare for the Warriors, who would you get?
I am not sure you can do much better than Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and a former Warrior, in this case JaVale McGee. It is the perfect mix.
First, you get a guy in Rajon Rondo that hates the Warriors and isn’t afraid to talk to them, push them, irritate them, and get sheer joy from the challenge of getting them to snap. We have seen this already. Remember what he did to Draymond Green in the Playoffs this past season with New Orleans?
Second, you get a guy in Lance Stephenson that brings not one, not two, but three huge pieces to this plan to annoy the Warriors. First, he is now on LeBron’s team, so he can’t irritate him anymore. Second, he is maybe the only guy in the league that can irritate opposing wings more than Draymond Green. Third, he can guard Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant and talk to them, push them, irritate them, and get sheer joy from the challenge of getting them to snap. There isn’t a better player to mentally challenge Durant, Thompson, and Green into snapping than Lance Stephenson. He is a perfect fit.
Third, you get a guy in JaVale McGee that not only can rim protect and finish in the paint, but he has been in the Warriors locker room. He is intimately aware of what goes on and what makes them tick. McGee is the inside man that can feed Rondo and Stephenson information, plus he can help them in an area Golden State is weakest: inside play.
Look, I am not saying the Lakers can beat the Warriors in a playoff series with this plan. But you can bet a Lakers vs Warriors series would be must see TV for the entertaining mental game that will ensue between the Lakers new additions and the Warriors superstars. I am sure Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics would be happy to catch the Warriors in the Finals coming off a series like that, and maybe they can accelerate a break up of this dynasty before LeBron gets some superstar help next year in LA.
Then we can all get on to the next great inevitable NBA rivalry:
Lakers vs Celtics
**Update: Lakers GM Rob Pelinka essentially confirmed this theory at a press conference days after this article was published.