Los Angeles Lakers: How Rob Pelinka secured the present and the future

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

The Los Angeles Lakers’ success is due to Rob Pelinka’s navigation.

Rob Pelinka has done a superb job setting up the Los Angeles Lakers to contend for titles not just this year, but also for the foreseeable future. He deserves strong consideration for NBA Executive of the Year.

His road from Kobe Bryant’s agent to head of basketball operations of the most famous franchise in the NBA was anything but smooth. Although he established a strong working relationship with Jeanie Buss throughout the years he represented Kobe, he still had to survive:

  • Public surprise and disbelief when Jeanie Buss first hired him
  • The apparently rocky relationship he had for two years with his immediate boss, Magic Johnson
  • Charges that he was disloyal to Magic and unpopular with other GMs
  • An often chaotic and clumsy search for a new head coach
  • Widespread praise along with criticism for his trade for an undisputed superstar

Yet despite all that, Pelinka’s accomplishments speak for themselves. Let’s examine them in an unorthodox way by starting two years from now and working backward in time.

Looking ahead: The Los Angeles Lakers’ 2021-22 Season

As of now, how many players do you think the Lakers have signed for the season after next? Believe it or not, the answer is ZERO.

That’s right, not a single player is signed for the 2021-22 season. How is that possible? And why would that be a credit to Pelinka’s stewardship?

To begin with, the cupboard really isn’t entirely bare. LeBron James, who has a player option for that season, almost certainly plans to stay with the Lakers if he remains nearly as physically able as he is today. The only question is whether he’ll exercise his option or instead sign a new contract.

Additionally, most everyone believes that Anthony Davis will also remain a Laker. But he may find it more lucrative in the long run to exercise his player option for 2020-21 and then sign a longer-term contract as a free agent the following year (more about that later).

Among the rest of the current team, Kyle Kuzma is set to be a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season. Everybody else, at least as of now, will be an unrestricted FA. That is an intentional strategy, not an accidental occurrence.

The Lakers roster will likely start with the excellent nucleus of LBJ and AD. And by design, Pelinka has left a setting open at the Lakers table for another elite player. It is his master plan to sign a top free agent to form a seemingly unstoppable Big Three two seasons from now. As of now, his biggest target is undoubtedly the league’s reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose contract expires in 2021.

Nobody knows what Giannis will do. He may decide he likes being in a relatively small city and remain in Milwaukee. He may instead desire to move to a new home but chooses one where he is indisputably the top dog, just as Kawhi Leonard did this season. Or it’s at least feasible that he may find the lure of the NBA’s #1 franchise to be irresistible and sign with the Lakers.

At the very least, Pelinka is leaving the door open to that last possibility. His Plan A seems to be to sign Giannis to join James and Davis, and for family unity maybe also Giannis’ younger brother Kostas, who played for the Lakers G League team this year. Rob would likely then try to re-sign several other Lakers and fill the roster from outside, a strategy he successfully employed prior to the current season.

But just as he did in 2019-20, Pelinka has certainly already developed Plans B, C and beyond. Chances are good that if the Greek Freak goes elsewhere, some other prized free agent will grasp at the opportunity to win multiple championship rings by signing with the Lakers.

The great unknown is how effective LeBron will be two years from now. Can he continue to defy Father Time? But even if has slipped a bit, the Lakers will still have Davis during his prime. And that should be enough to attract another star to join him.

Credit must be given to Pelinka for planning ahead while also building a contender for the present.