When Dennis Schröder arrived with the Lakers in a trade last offseason, general manager Rob Pelinka reached out to the veteran point guard with a simple message: I’m here for you.
“He said ‘every time when you need something, text me. If your family needs something, just holler at me, I’ll figure it out,’” Schröder said. “He did everything for me, stayed in contact every single time that I needed something. Even in practices helping me out, talking to me, what I can improve on and stuff.”
Schröder said that Pelinka’s desire to help wasn’t just for him. It extended to everyone on the roster as he tried to help the team he built navigate the challenges of an unprecedented, compressed and pandemic-altered season.
“He did everything for us, and that’s all you can ask for,” Schröder said.
The recollection, one that Schröder dropped during his exit interview after the Lakers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs this week, felt unexpectedly warm for a point guard with a reputation for being a bit prickly. Schröder often carries himself on and off the court like a version of the Michael Jordan “and I took that personally” meme come to life, constantly searching for slights. So does he really have positive feelings towards Pelinka, a man who reportedly attempted to deal him for Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, only to pass when Talen Horton-Tucker, not Schröder, was deemed too costly a final piece?
Schröder says yes, because not only were he and Pelinka in “close contact throughout the whole season,” but as the owner of a professional basketball team, Braunschweig Löwen, in his hometown in Germany, Schröder knows how the business of basketball works from both sides of the negotiating table.
“I try to run my organization in Germany as fair as possible, but at the end of the day it’s still a business,” Schröder said. “I want to do what’s best for the team, but at the end of the day I’m still caring about my players who are in there, and that’s what Rob did as well.”
Schröder feels confident in that last part, because he says Pelinka explained the full context of the Lowry trade talks to him.
“He said he listened to it. It wasn’t even right by the trade deadline, but he talked to them to see, and at the end of the day, I would listen to offers as well,” Schröder said. “Because at the end of the day, you don’t know what you can get, and (you have to) see what your options are. I’m a guy who does a lot of business on the side as well, so I understand that. There’s no bad feelings.”
Schröder also said those trade talks were not why he declined the Lakers’ four-year, $84 million contract extension offer, which makes sense, because the initial reports were that Schröder declining that offer was why the Lakers elected to make him available at the trade deadline. But whatever the order of events, Schröder reiterated that the reason he wants to test free agency is that he wants to get the chance to weigh all his options in much the same way the Lakers did at the deadline. Just like they were with him, he’s being upfront about it.
“After eight years, I wanted to decide where I wanted to go and where I wanted to sign. I didn’t do that in eight years, everybody told me ‘yeah do this,’” Schröder said. “The one option I had was to sign the extension in Atlanta, but after that I didn’t have no say. So that’s the reason why I didn’t sign the extension.”
That is what Schröder has said basically every time he’s asked about free agency, and the other thing he’s almost always stated is that he wants to return to the Lakers. Most recently, he declared after their Game 6 elimination that he and the team have “unfinished business” together.
“We’re going to be back,” Schröder said on Thursday night. “I’m going to work my ass off to come back here, to give everything, because we owe the fans one. I want to win a championship and I’m going to work my ass off this summer, come back and be me.”
Pelinka himself was asked about those comments during his own exit interview with the media on Friday, and while he (wisely) ducked the question of whether or not Schröder would be the team’s first domino to fall in free agency, his answer did suggest he developed a lot of respect for what Schröder brought to the team.
“One of the genes that we value in a player in terms of the makeup, DNA or mentality is just the competitive nature. And I think all of us can look at Dennis’ body of work, and he is an extreme competitor,” Pelinka said. “That’s on both sides of the ball. He’s hounding guys, picking up players full-court, diving for loose balls, bringing that energy on the defensive end, and then of course has the ability to score at the point guard position. So we value those qualities in him.
“August is August, and free agency is a couple months away, and there’s a lot of different things we’ll have to evaluate there, but Dennis is an attractive player for us just because of what he brings to the table,” Pelinka continued. “I agree that there are multiple parts and pieces of this team that there is unfinished business (for), and I think when you fall short of the goal that you set, it has to drive you. It has to be the fuel that drives your passion. And I think us falling short as a team, that in some sense is going to be part of our motivation in putting in the work to getting back at it and starting training camp next year with a strong roster.”
Will that roster include Schröder? Only time will tell. Free agency begins Aug. 2.