The Warriors were already historically great, and then they signed DeMarcus Cousins. If all goes well, they could be the greatest team of all-time. Their floor is championship favorite.
Plenty of teams seem content to wait out Golden State.
Does that include the Lakers?
They have LeBron James locked up three more years, and he doesn’t seem to be demanding urgency. Their other signings – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee – are for one-year deals designed to maximize long-term flexibility. Los Angeles hasn’t flipped any of its top young players – Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart – or future first-round picks for immediate upgrades.
But the Lakers say they’ve designed this roster specifically to compete with the Warriors.
Lakers general manager Pelinka, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:
“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 of one of the many reasons for the construction of the Lakers’ current roster. “It is certainly part of the equation. … [President of basketball operations] 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.”
“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.
This is intentionally different than the approach the Cavaliers took with LeBron. They prioritized offense and surrounded him with shooters. That left Cleveland short against Golden State the last couple years, and the Lakers are trying something different.
But the Lakers will run into the same problem the Cavs did: Their players just aren’t good enough. Rondo’s best defensive days are long behind him. Stephenson and McGee are good in moments, spacy in others. Caldwell-Pope is a good perimeter defender but struggles when switching inside or against bigger wings.
It’s not as much style as ability. The Rockets had way better players, which is why they came closer than anyone to beating the Kevin Durant Warriors in the playoffs.
The Lakers shouldn’t completely give up on this season. They have LeBron, and he alone gives them a chance. More importantly now, he provides the them a chance to build a more serious contender in future years.
But it’s tough to buy the Lakers’ stated plan for this season.