In most circumstances, a general manager making an all-or-nothing move that ends up with the latter of those two options would lead to him losing his job. And saying that Rob Pelinka pushed all of his chips to the middle of the table and turned over a 2 and 3 is a pretty good summation of how the Lakers’ 2021-22 season played out.
But instead of busting and being forced to leave the proverbial poker table, Pelinka had another stack of chips slid his way by Jeanie Buss. The Lakers owner was already reportedly backing Pelinka, but she removed any doubt about that on Monday when she spoke about him to Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times:
“In terms of basketball decisions, I have complete confidence in our front office, which is headed by Rob Pelinka,” she said. “He is a person that is extremely smart, extremely strategic, everything he does is thoughtful and with purpose. … I have complete confidence that he can put together a roster and find a coach that is going to get us back to where we belong.”
Buss would not speculate about how Westbrook fits into that roster, saying, “Having a conversation like that is premature. We have to now find the right coach to lead this team. Depending on the style of play that that coach wants to play, given the roster that we have, it all has to start to come together.”
Realistically, the main reason Pelinka is still around is because of nepotism. Jeanie’s circle is small, and it takes a lot to fall out of that circle, shown by the likes of Magic Johnson and Phil Jackson still being included in said circle. She’s also fiercely loyal to those within it. And if we’re being honest, if or when the day comes that Pelinka is fired, odds are he probably won’t fall out of that circle, either.
But to continue the poker analogy from earlier, Pelinka hit big on the first hand during his first year fully in charge in 2019-20. The Lakers won the title with him at the helm in the wake of Magic Johnson’s unexpected resignation, and he deserves at least some measure of the credit for that. Year two may have been an example of him being done in by the flop after having a strong hand. Year three, though, was as bad as a hand of poker or a season in the NBA can go, and would lead to almost any other executive for any other team being fired if a roster this expensive failed this badly.
As it stands, reports indicate Pelinka will have one more go at the table to try to turn the Lakers into contenders. He’s going to have a remarkably difficult task ahead of him, but it’s one he played himself into by trading everything for Russell Westbrook, scapegoating Frank Vogel and now positioning himself as the lone man in charge of the decision-making for the franchise.
But no matter how much pressure Pelinka may be in from the outside looking in, so long as he remains in Jeanie’s circle, it will take quite a lot for it to seem like his job is really on the line.