Despite reports over the last week that people around the NBA are questioning the job security of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, it appears unlikely he will bear any professional consequences from team governor Jeanie Buss this mess of a season.
Marc Stein already reported last week that Pelinka, Kurt and Linda Rambis are “firmly entrenched” in Buss’ brain trust, and on Monday morning, Bill Oram and Sam Amick of The Athletic dropped a big story on the latest drama in Laker Land, and based on their reporting, it sounds extremely unlikely that Pelinka is going anywhere, for a few reasons (emphasis mine):
Take Pelinka, for example, the longtime agent for Bryant and close friend of Buss, who sources say still has her full support and trust.
Had Bryant not passed away in that horrific helicopter accident on Jan. 26, 2020, Buss had plans of offering him a hands-on role in the front office in the near future. He had already made a significant impact on the franchise in retirement, compelling Jeanie to fire her brother Jim from his front office position during a Feb. 2017 lunch in Newport Beach. The path to landing LeBron, Bryant had said back then, included Jeanie channeling her inner Daenerys Targaryen — the “Mother of Dragons” from Game of Thrones — and making the tough decisions as part of the preparation for James’ free agency.
The Lakers legend had made it clear at the time that he was too busy with his non-basketball businesses to run a front office, but it’s clear the door would remain wide open for a role in which he shared his perspective and voice. Pelinka, in essence, now represents both himself and Bryant in that role. And those kinds of ties, it’s clear, aren’t so easily severed.
To further contextualize these points, Pelinka is still extremely close to the Bryant family, even saying in an episode of Spectrum SportsNet’s Backstage Lakers this year that he and his own wife and children had been considering a move to Los Angeles to bring him closer to the Lakers’ offices, but had put the kibosh on those plans to remain neighbors with Vanessa Bryant and Kobe’s daughters in Newport Beach after his and Gianna’s tragic deaths.
At this year’s All-Star weekend, Pelinka was at Vanessa’s side as Kobe was honored among the top 75 players in NBA history, with Vanessa posting an Instagram photo of the two of them captioned simply “Family ❤️.”
Now, that connection is obviously not the only reason Pelinka is remaining employed. He was, after all, at the helm of a title team less than two years ago, and managed to remain employed despite Magic Johnson — one of Jeanie’s best friends and essentially an adopted brother — calling him a backstabber and flaming the organization on the way out. That would seemingly indicate he has truly ingratiated himself to Buss and the Rambii on his own merits. Then, he helped steer the team through one of the most challenging championship runs any team has ever faced due to the pandemic and Bryant’s death, all while mourning the loss of his best friend. One bad season — hell, a horrific one, even — wasn’t going to override all that for someone with as much loyalty as Jeanie. And honestly, maybe it shouldn’t.
All that noted, Jeanie also likely doesn’t want to sever a connection with someone so close to the Bryant family, and by extension, the Lakers family. As uncomfortable as the topic may be — it’s why I didn’t want to headline around that aspect of the report — I’ve often wondered if this was a factor in Pelinka’s seemingly unassailable job security. Now, according to Amick and Oram (the former of whom has often gotten exclusive quotes from Buss over the years, so is likely as familiar with her thinking as any NBA journalist), we know that it is, at least to some degree.
Buss already said way back in 2017 that Kobe would be getting a statue one day, for example. Would the Lakers really want to do something like that while severing a connection to his best friend and someone who is so clearly still very tight with his wife and family? At this point, based on this reporting, it’s at least fair to ask the question.
Now, will that be enough to keep Pelinka with the Lakers indefinitely? Who knows. But as of now, we can’t rule it out as a factor when discussing where blame will ultimately get aimed this offseason, and who will be around as the organization attempts to rebuild and reload.