After eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances, LeBron James signed a four-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
While the Lakers finally landed their first superstar since Kobe Bryant, former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka made some interesting decisions to fill out the rest of the roster.
As Johnson and Pelinka wanted to preserve their second max-contract slot with one-year deals, they ultimately surrounded James with ‘tough-minded’ playmakers instead of shooters for the 2018-19 NBA season.
For former head coach Luke Walton’s coaching staff, one member had the same reaction as basketball fans, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN:
“We all had the same reaction that the basketball world did, like what the f— are we doing?” one Lakers coaching staff member told ESPN. “Not only are we not getting shooting, but we’re also getting every basket case left on the market.”
A front office staffer also shared similar thoughts about the team’s signings:
“We were all confused,” a front office staffer said. “All of it made no sense.”
After the Lakers signed James, they surrounded him and the young core with Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Lance Stephenson. As all of these players have a certain reputation around the league, Beasley was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Clippers shortly after a disagreement.
At the time of these signings, Johnson and Pelinka wanted to challenge the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in a different way. As the Houston Rockets failed to outshoot them in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, the Lakers felt having numerous playmakers could be effective.
Heading into the 2018-19 NBA trade deadline, the Lakers wanted to make a playoff push and eventually traded for Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala. While the hope was Bullock and Muscala would provide some much needed three-point shooting, they ultimately struggled in Los Angeles.
As the Lakers eventually failed to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, Johnson and Pelinka were heavily criticized for trading Svi Mykhailiuk and Ivica Zubac. Instead of signing shooters in free agency, they had to take a couple of steps back and traded two prospects who still have potential.
With Pelinka running the team’s front office now, the hope is he will learn from these mistakes. Armed with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and a max-contract slot available, the Lakers can improve, but it may not matter.