The Lakers first added James’ longtime agitator Lance Stephenson before reaching deals with JaVale McGee, a player who carries an oafish reputation, and Rajon Rondo, a ball-dominant guard who has been known to be cantankerous.
Aside from potential chemistry issues the trio brings to the table, Stephenson and Rondo, at least, don’t seem like a fit with James on the court. Neither can shoot all that well and both require the ball to be effective, which goes against the qualities the typical role player next to LeBron has had over the years.
It was fair to wonder just how aware LeBron was of these moves before they happened and whether or not he gave his blessing to team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka to go forward with them.
As it turns out, James has been consulted on the signings and been kept in the loop, according to ESPN.
That still leaves the question of why LeBron is okay with the Lakers going in this direction, instead of surrounding him with more shooters as was the case in Cleveland.
Based on ESPN’s report, James has bought into Johnson’s plan to use him more off the ball as he progresses through the later stages of his career.
While he’s coming off arguably the greatest statistical season of his career in which he played all 82 games for the first time, James will turn 34 before the end of the year and has countless mileage already on his seemingly indestructible body.
By surrounding James with playmakers like Rondo and Stephenson, as well as Lonzo Ball, the Lakers are hoping to take pressure off LeBron to create every possession, which would allow him to do utilise other parts of his game like cutting – which he flashed with great success during his time in Miami – and posting up.
Though he doesn’t have the size of a traditional big, James is one of the most efficient post-up players in the league thanks to his combination of strength and skill. He ventured into post at times with the Cavaliers, especially in the playoffs to take advantage of mismatches, but the physical toll of posting up, as well as the burden of creating offence for this teammates, meant that James couldn’t back down every play.
LeBron has also spoken about his desire to play with high IQ players and Rondo certainly fits that description. He’s no longer an All-Star, but the 32-year-old remains one of the best passers in the league and raised his level of play in the postseason each of the past two years.
James has never played alongside someone like Rondo or Ball, who have similar court vision and a knack for finding the best available shot on the floor.
Stephenson isn’t on the same level, but still possesses an ability to create shots for himself and others with the ball in his hands. He won’t be a primary playmaker like James, Rondo or Ball, but as a change-of-pace option off the bench he’ll also be able to relieve LeBron for small stretches.
All of this, of course, is predicated on James having the patience to transition into a more hands-off role, which is not a given. Ever since he left the Heat, James’ teams have played exactly how he’s wanted them to as he seemingly exerted control of every aspect of the Cavaliers’ style. With how the Lakers appear to want to utilise him, he’ll have to allow others – players and coaches – to have the reins more.
That may sound fine to James right now, but it might not be so easy in the season if there are growing pains and players aren’t performing to his expectations.
Fortunately for the Lakers, the deals signed by Stephenson, Rondo and McGee are all for one year, so if this experiment fails, it won’t last long.
But with it looking more and more likely that another star won’t join in Los Angeles this summer, it could be a long year for LeBron.
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