If you’ve been paying attention to the basketball this season, the Lakers have actually produced some brights spots. Anthony Davis should be in the MVP conversation. LeBron James is doing unheard of things at his age. Lonnie Walker IV appears to be a legitimate rotation player. Austin Reaves has taken a real step forward. Russell Westbrook might have saved his career in no small part because Darvin Ham, a rookie head coach, convinced him to accept and thrive in a new role.
Yes, the wins haven’t come as the Lakers might have hoped, but there really is plenty to like if your focus is basketball. Problem is: Because of the way Rob Pelinka has approached this season, it’s become impossible to actually focus on the basketball.
With the latest self-imposed, arbitrary deadline that will pass without a Westbrook trade, and the next self-imposed, arbitrary deadline now in place, Pelinka is stealing any joy this season could have produced while we all sit here and wait for the trade that should have taken place legitimate months ago.
So far this season, James and Davis have upheld their end of the bargain. James may have missed time this year but he did sign his extension and alleviate pressure on Pelinka when he didn’t have to. Davis has played in all but two games so far this year with all of his minutes coming at center.
If the deal between them and Pelinka was, “hey, hold down the fort until I can figure this out,” then we’ve reached the time where Pelinka has to start figuring shit out. If he’s unable or unwilling to do that, then maybe it’s time to find someone who is.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Jeanie Buss decided after last season that Pelinka’s decisions warranted an extension. In a surprise to no one, as he escaped any accountability for his role in the most frustrating season in Lakers history, he is once again making those same mistakes and might be risking yet another similarly brutal campaign.
Buss, to her credit, claimed that the reason she had to fire her brother, Jim, when she did was that he was overseeing too much losing and that it was hurting the Lakers brand. Sure, sounds fine to me. If that was her standard for change, though, Pelinka’s apparent apathy toward losses piling up should be met with similarly serious consequences. At least all the losing Jim did led to productive draft picks in the lottery.
More maddening than anything here is how clearly self-serving all this has become. Pelinka can’t make the same Buddy Hield, Myles Turner trade now after months of waiting because then these first 20 games will have been a waste. If he finally gives up both the 2027 and ‘29 picks now, it will look like he, the former super agent, once again lost a negotiation — a practice that’s come to define his tenure as an executive.
We can pretend all this waiting is because certain players might be available mid-December or the market might improve as we head into January but it feels just as likely that Pelinka’s own ego is getting in the way of what’s best for the team. If that’s the case, then we can add that to the stunningly long list of reasons he isn’t fit for this job.
Swallowing one’s ego for the betterment of everyone around them is a tough decision. Firing a close friend after they show they’re in over their head is daunting. But so is what they’re asking of Ham, James, Davis and even Westbrook, and they’ve done their part. At some point, either Buss or Pelinka will have to hold true to their promises. Until they do, we’ll all be stuck focusing on the trade machine than we are on the basketball.
Speaking of focusing on the basketball, I spoke to Leigh Ellis (formerly of No Dunks, Inc.) about his growing tired of covering what the NBA has become and instead setting out on one of the cooler projects I’ve ever come across. Check out his 20 Games in 20 Cities in 20 Countries tour on all his social platforms.
You can listen to all that and more on our latest episode in the player embedded below, and to make sure you don’t miss a single one moving forward, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.