Lakers’ great Kobe Bryant, who knows something about dynamic superstar duos and winning championships, says it takes more than just superstars to win it all. It also takes a great roster and the right system and schemes.
If you look back at Kobe’s five championship teams, you can see winning also demands an organization where everybody is on the same page, including front office, coaching staff, superstars, and roster. That sense of shared vision is what made the Jerry West, Kobe and Shaq, Phil Jackson threepeat Lakers special while the lack of it is what likely doomed the Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Luke Walton dysfunctional Lakers to fail.
I’ve become a huge Rob Pelinka fan for the fabulous job he’s done the last five months transforming the Lakers franchise into an organization where everybody is finally working in the same direction and on the same page. Despite internal strife and an antagonistic media, Rob’ has been able to dramatically change the dynamic and get everyone in the organization laser focused on a championship formula based on shooting and defense.
The result has been a turnaround where, for the first time in seven years, the Lakers’ front office, superstar duo, veteran coaching staff, and talented roster are perfectly synchronized and finally positioned to be successful. What Rob has accomplished in just five short months has actually been miraculous. He’s rediscovered and somehow managed to sell the entire Lakers organization on Kobe’s formula for winning championships.
A Premier Superstar Duo
The NBA is a league dominated by top-five superstars and the Lakers with small forward LeBron James and power forward and center Anthony Davis are the only team in the league with two top-five superstars on their roster. That’s what separates the Lakers with James and Davis from the Clippers with Leonard and George, the Rockets with Harden and Westbrook, the Warriors with Curry and Thompson, and the Nets with Durant and Irving.
LeBron James at 34-years old is still the best player on the planet and more capable of carrying a team to the NBA championship than Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, or any superstar in the game. While not even in his prime, Anthony Davis at 26-years old is already a more gifted and impactful player than Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, or any of the second superstars on any team.
In addition to being the best 1–2 punch in the league, James and Davis complement each other better than any of the dynamic duos on the teams with whom they’ll be competing to win games and the NBA championship. They seamlessly fit together offensively compared to dynamic duos who play the same positions and need to make major adjustments just to play with each other like Leonard and George or Harden and Westbrook.
No disrespect to Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, or Kevin Durant but LeBron James is going to attack every team this season with a vengeance like we’ve never seen to prove he’s still the MVP and the greatest player in the world. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis is going to enjoy a breakout season where he dominates the game at both ends of the court and shows the world why he and not Giannis or KD is going to be the heir apparent to LeBron James.
The greatest challenge to the chances of LeBron James and Anthony Davis to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their 17 NBA championship won’t be Kawhi Leonard and Paul George or James Harden and Russell Westbrook. It will be the ability of James and Davis to remain healthy. If they can avoid a major injury during the regular season and playoffs, they should have a legitimate opportunity to win their first NBA championship together.
A Deep and Versatile Roster
Let me start by saying I totally disagree with the pundits who claim the Lakers made a serious mistake pursuing Kawhi Leonard and lost a golden opportunity to sign better players and build a stronger roster by waiting. Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office did a superb job convincing key players like Danny Green and Avery Bradley to wait and the only coveted players they lost signed contracts the Lakers could not have afforded.
Unlike last summer when Magic’s out-of-the-box thinking resulted in the Lakers failing to surround LeBron with enough shooters, Pelinka focused on skillsets needed to complement James and Davis: shooting and defense. Every free agent player the Lakers signed last summer had a record either as an elite three-point shooter or former NBA All-Defensive team member. Some like Danny Green and Avery Bradley actually checked both boxes.
The result was an offense with eight players who shot over 38% on wide-open threes, including Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Alex Caruso and a defense that boasted six veteran defenders who had won NBA DPOY or All-Defensive 1st or 2nd Team awards, including Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, and Rajon Rondo.
The Lakers have built a deep and diverse championship caliber roster loaded with elite shooters and defenders to complement and surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the premier superstar duo in the league. The heart of their depth and diversity is a roster of players who can play and defend multiple positions, including James and Davis who are likely the only superstars in the league who could actually play all five positions.
The Lakers’ roster versatility enables them to weather potential injuries, change game dynamics, and create mismatches to force opposing teams to abandon their preferred style of play and play how the Lakers want to play. Winning the 2019–20 NBA championship will take more than just the best superstar duo in the league. It will require a deep and diverse roster with elite shooters and proven defenders to complement the superstars.
A Savvy Coaching Staff
To win this year’s NBA championship, teams need more than a top-five superstar duo and a deep and talented roster. They also must have well designed and implemented offensive and defensive schemes and systems. Besides trading for superstar Anthony Davis and signing a bevy of quality shooters and defenders, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office smartly revamped the Lakers coaching staff to take advantage of the personnel.
Just as they did when rebuilding the roster, Rob Pelinka and his team focused on shooting and defense when revamping the coaching staff, hiring coaches capable of optimizing a roster of shooters and defenders. Despite initial conflict and indecision over whom to hire as head coach, the Lakers finally agreed upon Frank Vogel, a veteran coach respected as an elite defensive tactician who had embraced modern offensive principles.
A strong believer that team defense starts inside-out by protecting the rim, Frank Vogel is the perfect coach to create schemes to take advantage of the shot blocking of Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard. The Lakers also brought in a pair of defensive oriented former head coaches in Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins who were also former All-Defensive players to help Vogel optimize the savvy veteran defensive players on the roster.
Offensively, Vogel has become a devout supporter of playing outside-in and understands the game has evolved since his days coaching the Pacers and modern offense depends on stretching the floor with three-point shooters. To help improve the offense, the Lakers added highly respected player development coach Phil Handy and for the first time in franchise history a dedicated shooting coach in former Lakers sharpshooter Mike Penberthy.
As Kobe Bryant said when evaluating the league’s new crop of dynamic duos, winning isn’t just about superstars and the roster surrounding them: “What is the offensive and defensive system they’re gonna be executing?” What the Lakers have smartly done is build a veteran coaching staff with the ability and experience to design perfect offensive and defensive systems and schemes to optimize their superstar duo and deep and talented roster.
The championship formula Rob Pelinka’s used to end the dysfunction of the last six years is based on a shared vision and common objective of surrounding LeBron and AD with a roster of elite shooters and defenders. By getting the team’s superstar duo, their deep and talented roster, and their veteran coaching staff to buy into this vision, Rob has everybody on the Lakers working together towards their seventeenth NBA championship.
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