The blueprint for a successful LeBron James-led team has been pretty well-established over the course of the last few seasons: Surround him with as many shooters as possible and wait for him to get them wide-open shots. So it was definitely odd to see the Lakers, fresh off convincing LeBron to join them, go out and sign two grumpy, ball-dominant non-shooters in Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo. Thousands of basketball fans read the news about those signings and asked, in unison, a single question: What exactly is going on here?
Thankfully, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst is here to tell us a little bit about what exactly is going on here. According to Windhorst’s sources, all the moves the Lakers have made since signing LeBron were discussed by LeBron and team president Magic Johnson ahead of time, and have been executed with LeBron’s blessing. But even if LeBron really wants these guys around, there is still the question of why he wants them around. The answer, according to Windhorst, is that LeBron is pretty damn tired, man.
The Cavs were a team of specialists — many of them shooters — who were placed around the league’s ultimate Swiss Army knife. But at times, especially during the playoffs, it did have the feel that James was playing 1-on-5 and needing to play 48 minutes because he was the team’s only true creator and playmaker.
What Johnson pitched to James was a team stocked with tough-minded playmakers like Stephenson and Rondo who could free up James to finish in the lanes and from the post, rather than having to create the lion’s share of the offense himself. Rondo and Stephenson are also defensively versatile as their length enables them to be effective defenders in switches. That also follows with the talents of the 6-foot-6 Ball, who showed the ability to be an elite rebounder and defender for a guard in his rookie year.
This makes some sense. LeBron has completely exhausted himself carrying the Cavaliers’ offense over the past few seasons, and if he’s hoping for the final stage of his career to be a productive one he’s going to need to find a way to increase the number of low-impact possessions he plays. Having Rondo and Lonzo Ball around should allow him to spend plenty of time off the ball, and Windhorst theorizes that LeBron will spend much more time in the post during this upcoming season, an adjustment that both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant made when trying to extend their careers.
That all sounds nice in theory, but it seems unlikely that everything is going to go so smoothly in practice. How many times will LeBron have to kick it out from the post only to see Ball brick another jumper, or spend an entire possession in the corner while Stephenson maniacally dribbles the texture off the ball, before he reverts back to the old way of doing things? More than anything else, this upcoming season could be a test of LeBron’s patience.