Under normal circumstances, when a team with such high aspirations fails as spectacularly as the Lakers did this season, everyone’s job would be up in the air. Whether it be nepotism — actually it’s just nepotism, the Lakers front office has come under fire from the outside but have had no reports of a change coming from within.
Most of the ire has been directed at Rob Pelinka, current vice president of basketball operations and primary decision-maker after the departure of Magic Johnson. After building a championship team in 2019-20, a remarkably low amount of decisions and moves made by Pelinka since has panned out with none flaming out as badly as the trade for Russell Westbrook.
But in spite of the Lakers tumbling down the standings and suddenly in danger of missing the play-in game, reports are about the “unwavering support” owner Jeanie Buss has in Pelinka moving forward. Even as the reports from inside the Lakers are of support, the rest of the league may not be as sold. In Jake Fischer’s latest piece for Bleacher Report, the belief around the NBA is that Pelinka’s job may not be secure.
The Lakers’ struggles may ultimately have ramifications for several key Los Angeles actors. League insiders remain dubious that Pelinka is truly entrenched as Los Angeles’ lead executive beyond this season. The same doubt extends to the futures of embattled head coach Frank Vogel and Russell Westbrook.
It should be noted that Pelinka has never been looked too fondly upon by the rest of the league. Stemming from his time as an agent, Pelinka has long rubbed executives around him the wrong way. Fischer’s piece details a handful of different situations of how Pelinka handled trade negotiations that left sour tastes in mouths, none more so than leaving the Kings hanging on a deal for Buddy Hield.
Several rival front offices have indicated Pelinka has lacked when it comes to working with opposing teams.
“He wasn’t returning some teams calls at [this year’s] deadline,” one general manager told B/R.
“He was an asshole as an agent,” said another assistant general manager. “He had the most powerful players and if he wanted the player moved, he would’ve eviscerated you as a staff to get whatever he wanted. You can’t do that to people, and then expect them to work with you when you join their side.”
Again, it should be clear that this report is from outsidersl looking in at the Lakers. As previously mentioned, the Lakers don’t exactly operate like other NBA teams. In fact, a tongue-in-cheek joke amongst Lakers fans was used as an actual description of the Lakers in the piece with an assistant GM in the league citing Pelinka’s relationship with Kurt and Linda Rambis as well as Buss as “very much a mom and pop shop.”
Will there be any fallout from the latest debacle of a Lakers season? It would still be somewhat surprising given Pelinka’s strong relationship with the rest of the front office. But the leash is undoubtedly getting shorter. LeBron James and Klutch Sports’ recent public spat may have ended with both sides calling for peace with a shared goal, it helped raise the temperature on Pelinka’s seat ever so more.
With the team’s championship window closing and James’ contract ticking down, the Lakers can’t afford another swing and miss of a season. In that sense, the pressure is building on Pelinka.