Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka revel in diversity of veterans they brought to team
By no means were either Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations, or general manager Rob Pelinka afraid to be bold when they put together this collection of free-agent talent for the Lakers.
They claim to have been undaunted when adding the strong personalities and diverse characteristics of this Group of Five, who will join a young and impressionable Lakers team.
Johnson and Pelinka don’t view the signings of LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley as audacious moves.
“We’re not concerned,” Johnson said, his trademark smile beaming. “If I was concerned, I wouldn’t have signed them. I’m excited to have them — each and every one of them. Trust me.”
Johnson and Pelinka, of course, don’t have to coach this team. That’s in the hands of Luke Walton.
“Not only are we not concerned,” Pelinka said, “but it was purposeful.”
James is considered the best basketball player in the world so why wouldn’t the Lakers want him, Johnson said. But there always seems to be a swirl of news around James, his presence dominating and demanding.
James, who signed a four-year, $153.3-million deal, has won three NBA titles and has been to eight consecutive championship series. His resume is powerful.
Rondo, who left the New Orleans Pelicans and signed a one-year, $9-million deal to compete for the starting point guard spot with Lonzo Ball, is a basketball savant who has challenged his coaches and teammates to excel. But he’s also an NBA champion from his days with the Boston Celtics in 2008.
“Rondo’s still a champion,” Johnson said, citing his playoff experience that included averages of 12.2 assists, 10.3 points and 7.5 rebounds last spring. “You saw what he did for New Orleans last season. We’re happy to have him.”
McGee, who signed a one-year, $2.3-million deal, has been on Shaquille O’Neal’s “Shaqtin’ A Fool” segments for his lowlight moments. He’s also a two-time NBA champion after two seasons with the Golden State Warriors. He has prospered in his role as a rim-running center.
Stephenson, who signed a one-year, $4.9-million deal, is notorious for having blown into James’ ear when the two competed against each other in the Eastern Conference playoffs, when Stephenson played for the Indiana Pacers and James played for the Miami Heat. Stephenson is known to do a little dance when he likes one of his moves on the court.
“Lance played excellent basketball last season with his team,” Johnson said. “Didn’t have a problem, wasn’t a problem. We’re excited to have him because he’s been great out there…. I want to see Lance shake it up out there.”
Beasley, who signed a one-year, $3.5-million deal, has been an enigmatic player who has never quite lived up to being the second overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Heat. But he had strong showings at his last two stops, with the New York Knicks last season and the Milwaukee Bucks before that.
“Michael Beasley, come on?” Johnson said. “Do your thing.”
Johnson says the Lakers wanted some “grittiness” on the team, some “toughness.”
So in the eyes of Johnson and Pelinka, the addition of James, Rondo, McGee, Stephenson and Beasley embody what they searched for in the free-agent market.
“They’re very competitive,” Johnson said. “And that’s what we want. Nobody said anything about [Golden State’s] Draymond [Green], right? But he’s very competitive. He’s a key to what Golden State does. …
“We love that they all are different individuals and they bring something different to the table.”
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