Since he began reshaping the Lakers’ roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis in 2019 (before doing so again in 2020 and 2021), Rob Pelinka has made no secret of how involved his two superstars have been in the team’s personnel decisions. Pelinka has not only refused to conceal that dynamic, but embraced it, with Davis once comparing Pelinka to a “stalking girlfriend” because of how many texts and calls the Lakers’ big man would receive from the executive as he evaluated who to add in free agency.
As for James, while the “LeGM” meme might not be entirely accurate, LeSenior Advisor to Basketball Operations definitely is by all accounts. James and Davis were reportedly hugely influential in the ultimately disastrous decision to trade for Russell Westbrook after getting dinner with him in Brentwood over the summer. So it was no surprise when Pelinka went out of his way to say that there was “alignment” between himself and his team’s two superstars around the Lakers’ decision to not use what trade assets they had left to try and improve a horribly flawed and potentially toxic roster situation.
According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin on NBA Today, however, that interpretation of events is very different than how James and Davis see things:
“Rob Pelinka also said that ultimately there was alignment between him, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis to not make a move. Now, things get interesting here, as I am told from a source familiar with LeBron and Anthony’s thinking, that that is ‘totally false,’ that there was no conversation between Rob Pelinka, LeBron, and Anthony Davis on Thursday. There was no go ahead of an ‘okay’ to have inaction at the deadline.”
Of all the palace intrigue around the Lakers since Pelinka was hired as the team’s general manager in early 2017, this may be the most ominous sign yet for his job security. And remember, Pelinka has endured a less-than-flattering portrayal in an ESPN exposé, public attacks on his character from his former boss Magic Johnson, heavy criticism from several inside and outside the NBA around the package that he traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, and rumors as to who else may have their fingers on the scales when it comes to roster moves that Pelinka ultimately bears public responsibility for. Just this week, we have rumors that Pelinka was also pressured by members of the Lakers’ coaching staff to get rid of the struggling and mercurial Westbrook.
But anyone who could serve as a “source familiar with LeBron and Anthony’s thinking” is also someone who likely has a, shall we say, rich amount of power and influence over the future of the franchise. James and Davis are under contract for one and two more seasons after this one, respectively, and nobody has staked their reputation more on keeping stars happy than the Lakers have.
As former player agent to high-wattage stars like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, James Harden and more, Pelinka would seemingly understand that better than just about anyone. So he also probably realizes the significance of a public leak from someone close to James and Davis that effectively labels him an untrustworthy liar who went against his stars’ wishes. Put the relative merits (or lack thereof) of those wishes aside for a second: Agree or disagree with why James and Davis are upset all you want, but this leak clearly indicates they are less than thrilled with both the inaction and the lie about their signing off on it. Longer term, that’s something to monitor.
So forget whether Frank Vogel will coach the Lakers beyond this season, it’s fair to wonder whether Pelinka is now on the hot seat, and whether Jeanie Buss will be forced to choose between her organization’s best players or the person she has entrusted with running its basketball operations since Johnson stepped down in 2019. Whatever the eventual result of this is, we are probably just getting started with the latest Lakers drama.
In the words of the Joker when he was played by Pelinka’s good friend Heath Ledger: And here... we... go.