As the final hours of this Los Angeles Lakers season come to a close, the initial shots back and forth via the media are being taken among the parties most responsible for how badly things turned out. LeBron James wants his side of the story out there. Magic Johnson wants it known he isn’t to blame. Rob Pelinka has a few things to say, too, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent people should listen to him.
Take this story from Bill Oram of The Athletic, concerning Pelinka, Kuz, Nance and real estate:
When Kuzma went to Charlotte for All-Star Weekend to participate in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge, he sought an audience with Pelinka. Kuzma and his people came away from their chat feeling reassured, a source close to the situation told The Athletic. Pelinka told the second-year forward that he was key to the Lakers’ future and that, unless it was a trade for one of the game’s three best players, he wasn’t trading him.
A year earlier, Larry Nance Jr. approached Pelinka with a similar question.
Nance Jr. and his fiancée, his college girlfriend, were interested in buying a house. He wanted to get a sense of whether the Lakers planned on keeping him around, and Pelinka told him that the Lakers would only trade him if it meant landing one of the game’s three best players. He told him to buy the house, multiple sources confirmed.
Before Nance could get that far, however, he received a call on the morning of Feb. 8, 2018. He and Jordan Clarkson had been traded to Cleveland in a salary dump that cleared cap space for the Lakers to be able to offer two max slots in the summer.
Now, it’s theoretically possible that Pelinka and Johnson thought Isaiah Thomas was a top-three player, or considered the deal necessary to land James. Still, that was at the very least a probably misleading thing to tell Nance, and this isn’t even the first time Pelinka has been accused of fudging the truth. Andrew Bogut explicitly stated he felt Pelinka lied to him about whether or not they would waive him.
According to sources in Cleveland, Boozer and Pelinka approached the Cavs about letting him out of the last year of his contract June 30. Boozer could have been Cleveland’s next season for $695,000, but the Cavaliers did not pick up their option after, the club said, Boozer had committed to re-signing for the team’s full midlevel exception -- somewhere around six years and $40 million.
Boozer (and Pelinka) instead went back on that verbal commitment, signing a deal with the Utah Jazz, but the criticism of how things went down led Pelinka stepped down as Boozer’s agent.
In complete fairness, there’s no way to know how much of that was Boozer or Pelinka. If anything, Pelinka stepping down in order to save face for him and the agency he worked for at the time points to him not necessarily agreeing with Boozer on that decision. But like I said, we just don’t know.
What we do know, however, is that Pelinka has now been tied to (either directly or indirectly) multiple situations in which one party felt wronged and even lied to by the other, which would seem incredibly detrimental for someone whose job is so tied to relationship capital and being able to build trust during negotiations with teams and other agents.
In the NBA, you are obviously competing against other teams. That’s just the nature of the business. That doesn’t mean, however, that executives should go out of their way to screw each other at every turn. While one executive might get one over on another in a trade in one situation, making a habit of acting underhanded grants that executive a reputation and thus, teams won’t want to work with said executive.
What’s interesting here is that Pelinka, who comes from the player side of agency, is out here reportedly lying to players, building on a reputation among agents for shady operations. And any reputation Pelinka has will only extend to the Lakers as long as he is in their employ.
The other thing here is: He didn’t even have to tell this lie!
Yes, situations change and in this case, Pelinka had to take the deal the Cavs were offering at the time. They were able to move off of Jordan Clarkson’s contract (thus enabling them to sign LeBron James) and netted a first-rounder for their trouble. In a vacuum, making this trade was an absolute heist that could not have been passed up.
But why lie to Nance about this? Why go so far as to say to Nance (a nice player but nothing much more) that he was essentially untouchable? Why not just tell him that they liked him but that there was a chance anyone could be moved in the right deal? Why be more complimentary than was honest?
I’m not saying this describes Pelinka, but one trend with pathological or routine liars is they’ll tell lies even if it doesn’t really gain them anything. If Pelinka has this reputation out there already (again, I’m not specifically saying he does, but there is a trend here), it’s hard to make a case for him to stick around.
The Lakers have taken multiple hits as an organization this season, as a franchise that fails to get even LeBron James to the playoffs should. If Pelinka does have this reputation, those hits are going to keep on coming, and it’s fair to wonder whether the Lakers would be better off without him.