The Los Angeles Lakers wasted no time in building their roster for the 2018-2019 season after inking LeBron James to a four-year deal.
In the first 48 hours of free agency, Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson made splashes by signing a plethora of players to help them compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy. While the James signing was the first one to kick off free agency, there were four other signings that followed, three of which we’ll discuss.
In this article, myself, as well as fellow Basketball Society contributor Ralph Cortes, will examine each of the Lakers’ free agent signings beyond the King himself. We will do so by dissecting their pros, their cons, and their potential role for the Lakeshow.
JaVale McGee – 1 year, $2.4 Million
The recent NBA champion has agreed to terms with the Lakers and, as it sits now, will be the opening-night starter for Los Angeles. He joins a revamped frontcourt that lost it’s leading scorer last season in Julius Randle and potentially Brook Lopez, both to free agency.
A great rim runner who dives towards the basket with high energy and boasts good efficiency as a lob option. McGee should hold up well on this roster.
McGee shot 62.1% from the field and recorded an even better 69.1% on shots that were within a few feet from the rim (see his shot chart for the 2017-2018 season below). Defensively he will help immensely giving the Lakers the rim-protector they’ve been missing since Dwight Howard back in 2012. McGee will also be a big and easy target for Lonzo Ball and James in transition.
He can’t stretch the floor and has a limited offensive skillset. Another concern could be his ability to play a large chunk of minutes and keep his energy constant for sometimes up to 30-34 minutes per game. He may not be trustworthy to feed the ball down low and go get the Lakers a basket.
He will most likely start at center for a majority of the Lakers’ games, but it will be similar to how the Lakers used Andrew Bynum in the 2009-2010 season, where they started him but towards the end of the game, rolled with a bench big.
The number of minutes per game the Lakers get out of McGee should range from 20 to 26. If McGee does not start then he will be used similarly to how Golden State used him as a bench center who comes in when the Lakers need a burst of energy.
Rajon Rondo – 1 year, $9 Million
The three-time NBA assist leader joins James and Ball as the expected primary facilitators for the Lakers. Joining a roster full of youthful talent mixed with veteran playmakers, Rondo is being put in a perfect position to succeed.
He is still one of the best passers in the game and with scorers like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and James, it will be simple for Rondo to set them up for easy baskets. Having a roll-man like McGee as his lob option is important for Rondo as well.
With a basketball IQ that is off the charts, it will be useful to the entire squad to have Rondo out on the floor as much as possible. Ball could learn while watching Rondo orchestrate the offense, or the two could just share conversations in practice where Rondo can pass on his knowledge and approach to the game (LeBron can do this for Ball as well).
His passing skills will be most recognized but it his big hands and stellar perimeter defense against opposing guards that will be key in setting the tone for head coach Luke Walton’s defensive gameplan. Rondo prefers to get the rebound and go which is exactly what his ally Ball likes to do, so either as a starter or sixth man the pace will stay the same with Rondo.
NBA defenses know how to gameplan against Rondo and it’s really not too complicated. Let him shoot.
With large hands, it has had an effect on his jumpshot and although he has worked on it throughout his career, he still gets dared to shoot jumpers.
The only other con outside of that may be his potential to create locker room tension. Although players may like to play with him, Rondo has had run in’s with previous head coaches. Whether it be Doc Rivers in Boston or Rick Carlisle in Dallas, it’s clear to see that Rondo’s emotional and competitive makeup may not rub off too well with certain coaches. We will see how Walton responds to it.
With Rondo and Ball both competing for the starting point guard role for the Lakers, it will be crucial for Rondo to accept his role (either way) with grace and class. He is capable of playing big minutes but it would make sense for him to play around 24-26 MPG.
This way Ball is still getting out there and developing. Rondo may possibly play more minutes if the Lakers play an elite level guard on a given night where his defensive capabilities will shine through. A defensive second unit with Rondo next to Josh Hart in the backcourt doesn’t sound too bad at all.
Lance Stephenson – 1 year, $4.5 Million
Fate would have it that the most identifiable NBA meme out there (Lance Stephenson blowing into LeBron James’ ear during Game Five of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals), would eventually lead to them becoming teammates. Stephenson most likely signed on board to come off the bench and be James’ substitute but either way he is still a player that can contribute to the Lakers.
We all know he is a tough competitor and will be the player who will do the dirty work for the Lakers’ second unit. Stephenson is a tenacious defender and a physical player who can either bully defenders on the perimeter or be pesky enough to compete down low if he gets trapped in the trenches.
He is a great option in isolation situations when the game needs to be slowed down a bit. Stephenson is capable from the three-point line, and while he’s not a premier threat, he will still knock down a few. He’s confident with the ball in his hand and can be the primary ball handler when either Ball, Ingram, or James aren’t on the floor. Stephenson is a player who can rebound well for his size and ignite the fast break when doing so.
Stephenson seems to only perform when he is pitted against elite level talent. He might not bring it every night which is a concern going against weaker opponents. Not a premier three-point shooter so his spot on the offense could be hard to define. When he is in isolation situations, he tends to force up bad shots, feeling overly confident in his jumpshot. He is a skilled facilitator but tends to over-dribble when opportunities don’t open up and the ball sticks to his hands.
Stephenson will not be asked to play major minutes or be relied on too much. It simply won’t be necessary with James as the starter. He will mainly be a spark plug off the bench and will be inserted into the game when the Lakers either need another ball handler or need Stephenson’s defensive diversity.
Los Angeles did a solid job of flanking LeBron James with savvy, playoff-tested veterans that they won’t be committing to past this season. It’ll be interesting to see how all of the pieces fit, but the Lakers’ non-LeBron free agent acquisitions will play a huge part in landing them back into the postseason.