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Rob Pelinka on the Lakers’ NBA trade deadline mentality, free agency flexibility

A window into the thought process of the Lakers’ front office.

NBA: Preseason-Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Trade rumors are taking over the NBA news cycle with slightly over a week until all pencils go down on Feb. 8, and curiosity around what the Los Angeles Lakers end up doing is only rising. Will they cut salary before free agency? Will they try to land a star ahead of the offseason?

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka sat down with Spectrum SportsNet for an expansive 20-minute interview — big shock with Rob on the mic, agreed — and he gleaned plenty of insight on what the front office’s mentality currently is regarding trades and free agency.

“I don’t know if this is the perfect metaphor, but maybe a nod back to Dr. Buss who we all know loved to play cards. The trade deadline, you almost have 30 GMs sitting around a big card table and they all have their deck of cards.

“What you’re trying to do as a player is analyze the other 29 players. What may they have, what may they move, what may be their next move in this card game. Sometimes if two players across the table do a trade and reshuffle cards, that changes the scenarios you’re looking at,” Pelinka said, drawing inspiration from the late, great Dr. Buss.

The NBA is hitting the turn card in the annual game of Texas trade’Em, with the Lakers serving as one of the teams helping warm up trade season with a report they’ve discussed sending Jordan Clarkson to the Detroit Pistons for Avery Bradley. Whether that trade actually comes to fruition — most don’t — is another story, but the cards are beginning to show themselves.

“Right now I think everyone is assessing the other 29 teams and what they might do, and then usually you see in that last week is when most of the major moves are made. And again, our goal is singular. It’s climbing up the Larry O’Brien trophy mountain and getting to the top.

“Along the way we have to show improvement, we’ve gotta make moves to get there, we know that, so we’re constantly assessing that. And if there’s things this trade deadline that help us take steps up the mountain on that journey, we’ll absolutely do them. But if those things don’t present itself, then we’ll stay the course with what we have,” Pelinka said.

The Lakers’ front office also has to consider free agency in the equation, especially with the ambitious goal of attracting not one, but two star free agents to take their talents to Los Angeles.

Maintaining the salary cap flexibility they currently have, or perhaps creating more by doing something like trading Clarkson to the Pistons in a salary dump, is also on their mind.

“Flexibility is a great thing to have, especially we’re in a cap system right now in the NBA where most teams are jammed up and don’t have flexibility or room. We’re one of the few teams that does. The pathway we’re on right now, that Magic, Jeanie, Luke and myself see is... we’re on a path of improvement and growth.

“We have an incredibly promising young core of players that our fans love to watch, and love to grow with. We may stay on that path, or with our cap flexibility if we have the chance to attract a megastar or free agent that can change things immediately, of course we have to look at it. We have the flexibility to do it,” Pelinka said.

The Lakers also have the option of standing pat across the board and continuing to grow the core they already have. This is particularly relevant as Julius Randle prepares to test the free agent market, though the Lakers will have the right to match any offer sheet he might sign.

“We can pivot and say ‘hey this cap flexibility gives us a chance to grow our core and sign our own free agents,’ but the great thing is that whatever direction we go, we have this promising young group. You’ve gotta stay the course, you’ve gotta be patient, you’ve gotta let it grow, and if the right free agents come along that can help foster that, we’ll go for it. Or we’ll use it to re-sign our own guys,” Pelinka said.

The Lakers have their options in front of them, and over the next 10 days, will be forced to lay some of their cards down for the world to see.

To watch the full 20-minute interview with Pelinka, head over to Spectrum SportsNet.

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