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Lakers built to battle Warriors with defense, toughness and depth, GM Rob Pelinka says – Press Enterprise


EL SEGUNDO — When the Lakers’ management team of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka talked about what to do next in the euphoric hours after they persuaded LeBron James to come aboard July 1, they zeroed in on the question of how to assemble the rest of a roster that could dethrone the Golden State Warriors.

The addition of James was central to the Lakers’ offseason goals, of course. But there was work to be done well before the best player in the game agreed to a four-season, $153.3-million contract. The Lakers also needed to find the right supporting cast via free agency.

The Lakers planned for months for James’ signing and also for what would happen next.

Johnson and Pelinka decided the best way to defeat the Warriors was not to copy them. The Lakers needed a far different look for 2018-19. Instead of trying to match the Warriors’ superior offensive firepower, the Lakers needed to find ways to defend it and defuse it.

That’s why Johnson and Pelinka settled on signing guards Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson and center JaVale McGee and re-signing guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope after guard Paul George declined to meet with the Lakers and instead re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“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 Wednesday of matching up with the Warriors, the winners of three of the past four NBA titles.

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“(Johnson) and I had a conversation, and LeBron echoed the 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.”

Pelinka said he believes the Lakers now have the right mix of players to challenge the Warriors, the right combination of experience and youth, grit and skill, offense and defense, plus the towering presence of the game’s best player in James.

Pelinka also said he believed James, McGee, Rondo, Stephenson and Caldwell-Pope could form the right kind of leadership group to mold younger Lakers such as Lonzo Ball, Jason Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma into championship contenders.

James has won three NBA championships during his Hall of Fame-caliber career, two with the Miami Heat and one with the Cleveland Cavaliers. McGee won his second consecutive title last month with the Warriors. Rondo won the 2008 championship with the Boston Celtics.

Stephenson hasn’t won a title, but he has played in 440 games plus 57 more in the playoffs.

Ball, Hart and Kuzma were rookies last season and Ingram was a second-year player, and none of the four has played a single postseason game in the NBA. Caldwell-Pope, in his fifth season, has played only four playoff games, all with the Detroit Pistons in 2015-16.

“When you look at a roster, you have to look at it like a mosaic of tiles,” Pelinka said. “You can’t just look at one tile and see the picture. You’ve got to step back at look at the whole thing. One of the key ingredients we had to add when LeBron decided to come was guys who were playoff-tested. …

“Those guys bring a level of understanding of what it takes to succeed in the playoffs.”

By adding James and the other four veteran free agents, Pelinka said he completed another goal: providing Coach Luke Walton with the ability to mix and match players who can play different positions. The Lakers aren’t entirely a position-less team, but they’re close.

As Pelinka pointed out, James can play multiple positions, as can Caldwell-Pope, Ingram, Kuzma and Stephenson. Still, Walton’s system (and most of the offenses LeBron has found success with) require the presence of reliable 3-point shooters on the perimeter, and the Lakers’ additions don’t appear, on the surface, to help what was the NBA’s second-worst 3-point shooting team last season. Pelinka discounted the opinion that the Lakers failed to address their need for outside shooting.

Pelinka reeled off a list of the Lakers’ 3-point shooters and their shooting percentages from 2017-18, including Ingram making 39 percent from behind the arc, Caldwell-Pope making 38.3 percent, Kuzma hitting 36.6 percent and James shooting 36.7 percent with the Cavaliers.

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