(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)
Pelinka: LeBron 'Excited' to Play Alongside Lakers' Young Core
He began the press conference with a passage from “The Alchemist.” He closed it with a phrase in Latin.
In between, General Manager Rob Pelinka detailed the Lakers’ plans now that they have the most dominant player in the NBA.
Last winter, Pelinka and President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson took over a front office bereft of cap space and draft picks.
Pelinka — formerly the agent of Kobe Bryant — was given “The Alchemist” by Bryant, who felt the book would be of relevance, telling the GM, “you’re gonna go on an interesting journey here.”
Ironically, that was the same book that LeBron James read throughout this year’s playoffs. As of Monday, James is a Laker, which Pelinka calls “the culmination of everything we’ve been working towards.”
Pelinka sat alone at Wednesday’s presser, and there are no current plans for James to speak before the beginning of training camp. His previous team changes to Miami and Cleveland were accompanied with parties and fanfare.
Not this time.
Pelinka described a businesslike response from James when he inked his contract.
“It was, ‘Hey, we’re the Lakers now,’” Pelinka recalled. “‘We don’t celebrate signings. We don’t celebrate roster additions. We celebrate one thing — that’s NBA championships.’”
Rob Pelinka's message from LeBron James: "We don't celebrate signings. We don't celebrate roster additions. We celebrate championships."https://t.co/5KWI3yDjD3— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 11, 2018
In order to compete for the NBA’s top prize, Johnson and Pelinka set out to surround James with players armed with high basketball IQs, versatility, toughness and the ability to play a fast-paced game.
Rajon Rondo is expected to be a playoff-tested, highly intelligent floor general. Lance Stephenson brings “extreme toughness and edge” a la Dennis Rodman and Metta World Peace. JaVale McGee is the vertical threat the Lakers felt they needed.
“We purposefully wanted this team to be built very differently than the past ones he’s played with,” Pelinka said. “I really think the youth is going to be a mutually beneficial thing.”
By that, Pelinka means he expects that James will benefit from playing with the Lakers’ young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, just as much as vice versa.
The whole lot of James, Rondo, Stephenson and McGee are known for being fierce competitors, which the front office feels will push the young guys to a new level.
In fact, aside from James, every spot in the starting lineup will be on the table at training camp.
“When you have the best player in the world joining you on that journey, it just multiplies your passion,” Pelinka said. “It just multiplies your commitment.”
And LeBron knows that the young guys can play.
Ingram and Kuzma tied for the team lead in scoring. Ball would have been among the NBA’s top 10 in assists and steals if he played enough games to qualify. Hart was L.A.’s most accurate 3-point shooter and an elite rebounding guard.
“LeBron made it clear to (Magic) and me that that was one of the things he was so excited about,” Pelinka said. “… It’s gonna be really incredible for him to feel like he’s giving back to the game and helping shape these young guys.”
After Monday's signing I am so excited for our franchise and LeBron joining our team. Thank you to Rich Paul for managing this process with such class.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 11, 2018
In addition to youth, this roster is fundamentally different from those James has played with in the past.
While his recent Cavaliers teams have focused on shooting at the expense of defense, the Lakers have loaded up with long-armed defenders and playmakers.
The shooting is still there, as Hart (39.6 percent), Ingram (39.0), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (38.3) James (36.7) and Kuzma (36.6) all hit healthy marks from 3-point range.
But with the two-time defending champion Warriors looking for a three-peat, the Lakers’ brass isn’t trying to go shot for shot against a team featuring three of the top shooters of all-time.
”To try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap,” Pelinka said. “No one's gonna beat them at their own game."
That’s not to say the Lakers haven’t learned from Golden State’s run.
Coach Luke Walton (a former Warriors assistant) plays a similar, fast-paced, pass-happy system as the champs. Pelinka himself preached the need for “versatile, positionless players.”
But the Larry O’Brien trophy won’t return to Los Angeles simply by copying what Golden State is doing. And Pelinka knows it also won’t happen by being satisfied with signing the world’s best player.
“We’re on a journey towards bringing the 17th banner to the Los Angeles Lakers,” Pelinka said, “and we know we still have work to get there.”