To say that Rob Pelinka has exceeded expectations in his first year as the head shot-caller for the Lakers would be a gross understatement.
When it was first reported that the Lakers weren’t going to replace Magic Johnson with an experienced basketball executive, fans were enraged. Why was a big market team with a star player and a history of success operating like a mom and pop shop? Would it be so hard to attract someone like David Griffin, who James worked under and grew to respect during their time with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
In hindsight, those questions are still valid, but Pelinka has done a lot to prove his worth as a basketball executive since last summer. First, he successfully negotiated a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis and managed to keep Kyle Kuzma in the process. Then, he made the necessary salary dumping moves for the Lakers to make a competitive offer for Kawhi Leonard.
While Leonard ultimately signed with the Clippers, Pelinka’s cost-cutting trades allowed the Lakers to fill out their roster with veteran players like Danny Green, Quinn Cook and Avery Bradley. That’s not to mention Dwight Howard, who had to earn a guaranteed contract with his former team.
It should go without saying, but the Lakers wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for Pelinka. Not everyone feels that way, though. According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Pelinka has received “little support” among his peers for the NBA’s Executive of the Year award, and it’s partially because they’re not convinced he’s been integral to their success:
But some of his peers, many of whom had a history of dealing with Pelinka as an agent, seem to not want to give him much credit. Some cited the role of Rich Paul, the agent for James and Davis, in putting the team together. Others pointed to the Lakers being accused of and fined for tampering in recent years.
There’s no denying that Rich Paul and Klutch Sports have their fingerprints all over the Lakers’ roster. In total, the Lakers employ six Klutch Sports clients: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, LeBron James, J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters. But to say Paul has been more important to the Lakers this season than Pelinka has is a bold claim, and it discredits Pelinka’s role in helping the team bounce back from a disastrous season.
There are valid arguments as to why there are more deserving candidates for the Executive of the Year than Pelinka, but this isn’t it. Again, though, there is only one piece of hardware that matters at the end of the season, and Pelinka has put the Lakers in a position to bring it back home to Los Angeles.