Not even a year has passed since Magic Johnson held an impromptu press conference to announce that he would be stepping down as President of Basketball Operations of the Los Angeles Lakers. His decision could very easily have sent the organization into a tailspin heading into arguably the most important offseason in franchise history.
Many (myself included) called for a traditional candidate search to find Johnson’s replacement, but instead, Jeanie Buss stuck by her usual method of sticking with the people she trusts most, and chose to see what Rob Pelinka was capable of with Johnson now out of the picture.
To this point, Buss’ trust has paid off, and she’s doubled down on Pelinka as a result, extending and promoting him over this past weekend. And so far, Pelinka absolutely deserves a ton of credit for guiding the Lakers through their darkest hour and coming out the other side with the best team it’s fielded in a decade.
Still, the key qualifier in there is worth noting and discussing: So far.
Historically speaking, the Lakers have rewarded people after they succeeded at the highest levels, and while Pelinka deserves praise for getting the organization here — especially given where it was when he took over — moral victories haven’t really been the Lakers’ thing. So I guess my question is this: Why the hurry to extend Pelinka when there’s so much left to be done?
Yes, the Lakers currently hold the best record in the Western Conference (33-7) and appear well on their way to their first postseason since Kobe tore his Achilles, but they remain 0-3 against the teams most likely to get in the way of championship No. 17 — the Milwaukee Bucks and L.A. Clippers. There is a gaping hole at backup point guard and the team is desperate for wing defense.
Now, both those issues can be resolved through players who have been linked to the Lakers repeatedly (Darren Collison and Andre Iguodala, respectively), but is there a reason the Lakers couldn’t have waited to promote Pelinka until after they are? Is there some rush to hire Pelinka that literally no one knows about?
And again, I’m by no means making the case that he doesn’t or won’t eventually deserve his title and new contract. It’s just pretty rare that the Lakers hand out titles before the receiving party wins, you know, titles.
In a vacuum, the guy responsible for uniting LeBron James and Anthony Davis would normally earn basically a lifetime contract, but those guys didn’t come in a vacuum. It’s hard to make the case that James came for basketball reasons seeing as the coach he supposedly wanted to play for and the young core he wanted to team up with are now all gone.
Hell, even the boss he wanted to work with quit to tweet more.
And would Davis be a Laker if not for James coming first, albeit for reasons that, um, let’s just say extended beyond the court? Even if you disagree with those conclusions, are we really sitting here arguing that Rob Pelinka is the main reason either of them are here?
There’s also that whole awkward will-he, won’t-he regarding Davis’ free agent decision this summer. Now, to be clear, there have been zero reliable indications that Davis has shown any inclination whatsoever to sign elsewhere this summer, but as I asked before: Couldn’t Buss have waiting for Davis to sign on the dotted line before she had Pelinka do the same?
If we thought the immediate aftermath of Johnson’s departure was ugly, the scenario in which Davis leaves this summer and James next is basically the ending to “The Departed” on steroids. And while Pelinka now has experience guiding the Lakers through such tough times, is he really the guy for the job if he helped the Lakers get to that point?
Again, to be absolutely clear, I’m merely asking the question about the timing here, not making any kind of grand statement that it is stupid of the Lakers to honor Pelinka the way they did. Some of the above hypothetical is beyond the Lakers’ control, and it’s safe to assume that the Lakers did their homework with how both James and Davis feel about Pelinka anyway.
When Johnson stepped down, Pelinka filled a void
that Johnson claimed existed because of the knife Pelinka stuck him with that absolutely had to be filled. It was fair to question at that time whether he was the guy to fill it, just like it’s fair to wonder still to this day whether Kawhi Leonard would be a Laker had the Lakers hired someone with more league-wide gravitas.
The Lakers stuck with the closest thing to family and are doing the same by keeping him around beyond his previous contract. It’s just worth wondering why they might not wait for a fully-completed job before rewarding him for a job well done.
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