Depending on who you talk to, the Los Angeles Lakers are running a job search on either one or two fronts. We know for a fact that general manager Rob Pelinka is running the team’s hunt for Luke Walton’s replacement, but what is less clear is if there will be someone overseeing Pelinka while he does so, or afterwards.
Logically, it wouldn’t seem to make a lot of sense to look for a new coach before hiring the new head of basketball operations, but logic has been in short supply in Lakerland of late, so it’s potentially possible. However, seemingly the most rational read on the facts at hand would still be that Pelinka is going to have a lot more power moving forward, or that he has the tacit approval of his next boss to hire a coach (or at least conduct the first introductory interviews).
That’s led to speculation that the Lakers may already have a secret candidate in mind to run their basketball operations, speculation that has led to some pushback from plugged in Lakers insiders like Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
Sam Amick of The Athletic didn’t dispute Shelburne’s report during his appearance on ESPN Radio, or confirm the existence of a shadow president of basketball operations, but he did make it sound like the Lakers are at least looking around for someone to fill Johnson’s shoes:
"My understanding is that Magic will be replaced at some point... I don't know what that means for Rob Pelinka... I think you need to secure the front office first, and empower those people, and then focus on the coach." @sam_amick with @SedanoESPN on #TheSedanoShow https://t.co/HNMUivowPo— ESPNLosAngeles (@ESPNLosAngeles) April 19, 2019
Amick said he didn’t know who that might be, but that the team is evidently aiming pretty high (emphasis mine):
“I found it really interesting when I was told that the Lakers never reached out to Dave Griffin, because in NBA circles, he’s as good a name as you’re going to find right now. And then when I kept learning more about some of their potential approaches here, I think what is clear is that they are shooting even farther than David Griffin, even higher than that.
“I guarantee you there are some fascinating conversations going on behind the scenes right now with some very big-name people, and I don’t know who they are and I don’t know what’s next, and I don’t know if they’re going to get any of those people to bite.”
Before we get to all of that, let’s get this out of the way: I respect the hell out of Amick’s reporting chops, but I am not just gonna let him minimize noted Silver Screen and Roll reader David Griffin like that. There are NO bigger names than David Griffin.
I got your back, Griff.
Okay, now that that’s taken care of, what Amick said add’s to a really interesting situation, because as Jas Kang and I discussed on the latest Silver Screen and Roll podcast, no one seems to agree on what exactly the Lakers are doing, and when that happens with plugged-in reporters like this, it generally means there are different factions in an organization that have different plans and want to push different narratives. I don’t know what the truth is, or who is getting what from where, but it’s worth noting that no one seems to have this story fully pinned down yet.
All that makes it possible that the Lakers don’t know exactly what they’re going to do yet, which is somewhat understandable given how out-of-nowhere Johnson’s resignation was. Maybe they want to hire someone big — like say, Bob Myers, who there has been tons of speculation about and hasn’t expressly denied he’d consider the job — but are afraid they’ll turn them down, so they’re trying to be covert about it. Or maybe “a bigger name” just means they’re begging Kobe to come back and do it. Who really knows? Apparently very few people outside of maybe Jeanie Buss, at least right now.
Still, the idea that the team has a shadow replacement for Johnson actively signing off on things right now is sort of laughable if we’re still assuming that the Lakers operate logically, because a team under so much scrutiny would seem to be pretty dumb to so openly flaunt league rules in such a way. However, maybe they already have someone signed up that trusts Pelinka to make these decisions while their team’s playoff run plays out?
Really, anything is possible right now, but if the Lakers are swinging for the fences for someone to fill the space Johnson left on their organizational chart, it might finally lift the fanbase out of the negative funk everyone has seemingly descended into (and maybe make the Lakers better too). We’ll see what happens, but this definitely seems to be a situation worth monitoring for the next few weeks heading towards the draft and free agency.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.