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 Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

Rebuilt the Los Angeles Lakers’ roster

Because the trade for Davis tipped the Los Angeles Lakers over the salary cap, it was feared that Pelinka would have to fill out the roster with marginal NBA players, especially after Kawhi Leonard decided not to join the team.

But Rob quickly turned to Plan B (or maybe it was Plan C?), and did a masterful job adding to the core of Davis, James and Kuzma by signing free agents Green, Bradley, Cook, Cousins, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels (later released) and re-signing Laker free agents KCP, Caruso, McGee and Rondo.

But Pelinka wasn’t finished yet. When Cousins tore his ACL, Rob created a controversy when he signed Howard to fill his spot. At the time many thought it was a terrible move, but even the most jaundiced fan would now concede that Dwight has been a tremendous addition to the team.

During the season, Rob continued to bravely add pieces to the Lakers roster, first signing Morris and Waiters, who had essentially been kicked out of Miami, and more recently Smith, who hadn’t played in the NBA for two years.

It is too soon to know what contributions this trio will make, but it showed that Pelinka has the courage to follow his convictions. So far, signing all of them seem to feel like good moves, especially now that both Bradley and Rondo are out of action. Both Waiters and Smith played well in the team’s three exhibition games and both have shown they can be effective scorers off the bench.

Pelinka has done such an outstanding job that it is interesting to recall what happened when he was first hired nearly two and a half years ago. In February 2017, when Jeanie Buss named Magic Johnson to head up Lakers basketball operations, many if not most Lakers fans jumped for joy. They harbored high hopes that the iconic Magic would bring the team back into title contention.

Conventional wisdom dictated that she would subsequently hire an experienced general manager to team with Magic. But when news of the actual new GM was released, the prevailing reaction was “Who the heck is Rob Pelinka?”.

Those who had heard of him probably knew that he had been Bryant’s agent. College basketball fans might have even remembered that he was a valuable reserve on the University of Michigan’s Fab Five team in the mid-’90s.

But what convinced Buss that Pelinka’s experience would prepare him to become an effective NBA GM? The answer is that she doesn’t trust people easily, but she strongly believes in those she does trust. Their excellent working relationship persuaded Jeanie that he could do the job.

Fans rightfully asked what Pelinka would bring to the Lakers table. At first they were told that he was a master at understanding the complicated league salary cap provisions. OK, but what else could he do?

For two years, Rob stayed primarily in the background while Magic took center stage. Johnson set the principal agenda: create cap room so the Lakers could sign superstar free agents.  Pelinka learned that lesson well and executed his chief tasks of negotiating most player trades and signings to help reach that goal.

But the two hadn’t known each other before Buss hired them, and they were never close. And when Magic shocked everyone by resigning in April 2019, he tossed Rob under the bus, complaining that Pelinka was undermining and “backstabbing” him.

Johnson never provided any details or proof of Pelinka’s disloyalty other than saying that Rob told others that Magic didn’t work hard enough, a charge that Pelinka denied. It was also said that Rob had burned bridges with several other GMs and was not well-liked throughout the league.

In the aftermath of Magic’s departure, many thought that Jeanie Buss would replace him with an experienced NBA exec. Instead, she showed her continued trust in Pelinka by handing him the reins to the Los Angeles Lakers’ future.

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Since then, by all objective and subjective judgments, Rob has exceeded expectations and deserves any accolades he might receive, including being named NBA Executive of the Year.