The Los Angeles Lakers had a most impressive start to the NBA offseason when they signed LeBron James to a four-year, $154 million contract. The team has since followed that blockbuster move with a series of peculiar free agent acquisitions that don’t seem to adhere to any sense of Aristotelian logic. To wit, they have agreed to sign 29-year-old forward Michael Beasley to a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
Beasley is coming off a relatively productive season for the New York Knicks, which is kind of like congratulating the Hindenburg’s dining staff for keeping the potato salad warm. Still, Beasley provides size and scoring, and, despite having a reputation for being something of a space cadet, LeBron reportedly got along with the forward when they played together in Miami.
In isolation, Beasley is not a terrible pick-up for the Lakers. In context, however, the move represents the team’s entertaining descent into Felliniesque madness.
At the start of the month, the prevailing wisdom was that the Lakers would supplement LeBron with a complimentary superstar or two, be it Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or Demarcus Cousins. All three players signed with other teams, and the Lakers have instead signaled their intent to surround LeBron with the basketball equivalent of the Mos Eisley Cantina. These new additions include:
Rajon Rondo: Famously prickly basketball savant who is allergic to jump shots.
JaVale McGee: Athletic but aloof center who is most famous for his frequent blooper-reel appearances.
He also happens to be an NBA champion.
Lance Stephenson: Talented performance artist who occasionally participates in basketball games. Only seems to play well against current teammate LeBron James. Is an ear-blower.
The alchemist behind this bizarre tincture is Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, and LeBron apparently supports his tinkering. Those men are two of the brightest basketball minds the NBA has ever seen, so I want to believe there is a method to this madness. Here are some theories off the top of my head.
Come next June, the world will be distracted by the NBA Finals. The Lakers will not be involved, of course, thus leaving them free to pull off the biggest heist Las Vegas has ever seen.
By allowing Kevin Durant to join the 73-win Golden State Warriors, the NBA acquiesced to single-team dominance. Rather than try to counter Golden State’s talent, the Lakers are making a statement about futility in the face of this competitive imbalance. Other teams will heed this rallying cry and assemble bizarre rosters of their own in support. While they are doing this, the Lakers can tip-toe undetected into the vault of the Mirage and pull off the biggest heist Las Vegas has ever seen.
The league is currently all about 3-point shooting and fluidity, and this Lakers squad represents an almighty zig in the face of that zag. By stocking up on ball-dominant non-shooters, they may be able to bludgeon teams with a counterintuitive and direct offensive approach. Similarly, they will be able to walk in through the casino floor right under the noses of security, thus pulling off the biggest heist Las Vegas has ever seen.
By amassing one-year contracts, the Lakers are able to test out a few things this season before going all-in on any players long-term. This agility will be key when the salary cap rises, and the team’s interchangeable assets will also come in handy when Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson have to swap lion-tamer disguises in the bowels of the Mirage after purposely tripping the alarm system while pulling off the biggest heist Las Vegas has ever seen.
Next summer’s free agent class will be jam-packed with talent, and the Lakers are happy to simply bide their time. LeBron’s contract is for four years, after all, and their championship window with him may actually be longer if they don’t rush into any desperate roster moves. Going all-out for a championship is exhausting, and the Lakers need to save their energy for when they have to capoeira through a hallway of laser trip-wires while pulling off the biggest heist Las Vegas has ever seen.