Rob Pelinka has a tall task ahead of him and massive shoes to fill as the new general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. Another season in the 26-win neighborhood simply won’t do, and while there’s still belief the core can remain intact and drive the franchise forward, disappointing through 82 games again would have to end with players on the chopping block.
The past is the past, though, and Pelinka has the world’s greatest assist man to help lead the Lakers into the future in Magic Johnson. An oozingly-idealistic Pelinka sat before the Los Angeles media for his first exit interview session, laying his cards on the table. What’s clear is how high his expectations are, and how vocal he’s going to be about them.
“I think all of our guys know that the standard that Magic and I are going to employ, and work with Luke on, is going to be higher,” Pelinka said. ”And guys that aren't committed to excellence won't be here.”
The buzzword coming out of Pelinka’s presser was definitely excellence. He used it time and time again to discuss what he wants to see from the players, the staff the Lakers assemble, and the potential targets they look at through the draft and free agency.
Luckily, he explained exactly what that word means to him.
“I think true excellence is a process. It's an unfolding process, I don't think it's a destination,” he said. “I think that we are evaluating which of the players on the roster are going to buy into that process and make it a habit in their lives.”
While Kupchak always came off as a minimalist who stuck to the script with an old school mentality, Pelinka may have actually summoned the television soul of Chris Traeger as he discussed his expansive plans.
Take, for instance, the “enrichment programs” he said both he and Magic are planning on developing for the roster. The plan is to have the “titans of business” and “leaders in their industry” meet with players as a way to inspire them. He spoke of figures from the movie industry and artists sharing their journeys with the team, but it seemed like an esoteric concept in terms of basketball-related success.
The next time Julius Randle goes on a double-double tear, it may be because he was inspired by the insight of one of In-N-Out’s shining-star executives.
But between all of the sweeping ideas and swathes of paint he used to color his vision for the media, there were morsels of information to chew on. To Kupchak’s seemingly hands-off approach, the Pelinka and Johnson leadership duo has more than just shades of micro-management.
Whether it turns out to be for the better or worse remains to be seen, but things like instilling a wellness coordinator to help monitor various aspects of a developing core certainly seems like a good idea on paper.
“One of the things that we're going to put into place is a wellness coordinator here, who's looking at things like guys’ sleep habits, their nutrition habits, their lifting regiment, their training, and making sure the efforts are really really coordinated for the player development,” Pelinka explained.
It’s hard to immediately buy into something held so dearly — the Lakers’ success — being sold by a stranger. Pelinka spins around words like a web, and while it may not be deliberate on his part, it’s hard not to feel like you just walked through part of it face first while listening to him speak.
The pace he speaks with, the unfamiliar diction he brings to the microphone; these small things make for a largely different experience. Nevertheless, he has the same goal Kupchak had been chasing, and that’s bringing the Lakers back into relevancy.
He plans on doing that in any way he can. The front office is “cranking out scenarios” every day, pitching different ways they can improve. He cited the draft lottery, free agency, trades and the draft itself as avenues they plan on driving the Laker mobile down in search of improvement.
“Everything we want to do we want to be really really thoughtful, deliberate, intelligent,” Pelinka said.
The new air of the new era may be so strong that it has Pelinka optimistic about what that means in free agency going forward. Again, having heard these sorts of things and watched the Lakers swing-and-miss, it’s another hard sell until results are tangible.
“I anticipate that there are many stars that understand how unique this Los Angeles Lakers platform is, and I’m fully convinced we’ll have one, or more than one come. I can’t put a timetable on it, I can’t do that, but I do think that as we engage with voices of influence, it seems like the current of the river has shifted.
“Where is in past years it was ‘gosh, I don’t even know if we’re going to get meetings with certain players,’ you can just feeling a current shifting now towards us, of ‘gosh that’s going to be a huge destination.’”
Destination was another word Pelinka hammered home. Perhaps no quote personified the stark contrast between the Lakers new general manager and the to-the-point nature of Kupchak than his closing thoughts on how the Lakers will get to their ultimate destination: Trophy Town.
“The destination of getting to a championship might be like a Rubik's Cube. You're looking at this thing and it's got all these different colors and you've gotta get them to all line up.
“That's how I look at this. Maybe you have the pick, maybe you don't, but you've gotta continue to make moves and turn it until you have that complete, perfect picture. And that's what we're doing every day, and that's what we're analyzing and looking at.”
Pelinka’s summer of lining those purple and gold squares up will be his first chance to prove he has a clearer plan on how to solve this puzzle than the previous regime. Let the shifting begin.
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com’s live feed.