When the Los Angeles Lakers introduced their new head coach, Frank Vogel, at the UCLA Health Training Center on Monday, general manager Rob Pelinka opened up the press conference by talking about the sense of optimism surrounding the organization following the NBA Draft Combine, where they landed the No. 4 pick. Yipee!
All the while, Twitter was still trying to process everything that the team’s former president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, said during his appearance on ESPN’s “First Take,” particularly his comments about Pelinka, who Johnson accused of “backstabbing” him. Unsurprisingly, some of that carried into Vogel’s press conference because Pelinka hasn’t been made available for comment — other than briefly talking about the draft — since Johnson resigned in April.
If there is optimism about where the Lakers are headed, it’s hard to find right now.
However, in spite of all of the protests and less-than-favorable-coverage of the team over the last month, Pelinka plans on sticking to the plan: Work hard and live with the results (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
“I think that all we can do is do the work. And that’s what we’re going to stay committed to, is just doing excellent work. And I think if people take a look at where this franchise is, right now, we have a great coach. Again, we have a high draft pick, we have a great young core, maybe one of the best in the league. We have a superstar on our team and an open slot. So I think that people can look at this as an opportunity to come and win a championship possibly next year. And we’ve got to do the work.”
Pelinka also reiterated the fact that he nor his colleagues plan to get caught up in public opinion.
“I think being concerned about the outside noise or the opinions of what people may or may not think is, is really not where our focus is right now. Our focus is on doing good work. That’s what our fans expect. My commitment is to not worry about the opinion or what other people may be saying, but it’s to just do the work. That’s what our fans are asking us. And that’s what they expect. And we will put in the work to have an incredibly successful roster and team next year.”
But how much does the public perception of them affect their ability to recruit free agents this summer and build a successful roster? According to Pelinka, not much:
“I think the most important thing is that players look to who we really are and not what the impression is of what others are trying to create us to be. I think all of us know when we come to work every day that there is stability and strength and togetherness here.
“I think for any of us, we know who we are and ourselves, we know the characteristics and qualities we stand for. And we know as a staff and feel very strongly that if people judge and evaluate us for who we are as an organization and the vision and path we have going forward, we feel there’ll be a very, very strong appeal for the great players to come here.”
Vogel agreed with Pelinka’s sentiment and said that, in his experience, the Lakers are a well-ran organization.
“What I’d like to add, quite frankly, is the perception of our organization is very far from the reality from my experience coming in here. The thoroughness of the work, the collaboration of how things are being done with the decision making, and quite frankly, there’s a lot of positivity.
“I am a positive energy, enthusiasm type of a coach, and I’m going to spread that, you know, to everybody that will feel it. And it’s just one of those things that, you know, I understand what the perception is when you lose for a few years and some things happen.
“But there’s a positive vibe happening with our with our team right now. There really is. And, you know, it’s just one of those things, you’re just gonna have to wait and see. But you’re going to be happy with with the product that we put on the floor this year and where we’re going as an organization, you really are.”
Pelinka also believes that there will be less outside noise with the team they put together for next season.
“I think simply put, the best way to quiet the noise is to do what the Lakers do, and that’s to win and to compete for banners. The noise will exist if you’re not doing that. Last year, of course, for many reasons it was a challenging year. I think instead of spending all of our focus looking backwards, we’re going to look forward. And I think we have to learn from last year. And there are things that we learned. But I do think next year we will be a winning team. And we’re going to all put in the work with Frank’s coaching leadership and the front office to make sure that’s the case, and that’ll that’ll end the noise.”
In both Pelinka and Vogel’s defense, they’re saying all of the right things. I mean, what else are they supposed to say? “Yeah, I don’t know, man. Free agents would have to be pretty stupid to sign here. There’s literally a team across the hall that made the playoffs last season if they want to play in Los Angeles and win.” Of course they’re not going to say that.
That being said, they need to live up to their words by putting together a strong team this summer. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean going out signing the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson, but it does mean building the roster in a thoughtful way.
If they can keep their promises and build a winning team around LeBron James and the young core, most of that outside noise will go away. If they can’t, it will only get louder from here.