Rob Pelinka is currently in the process of undoing the mistakes he is at least partially responsible for making, triggering the Lakers’ worst season in franchise history. So far, the general manager’s latest transactions seem to prove that he’s learning from last offseason’s blunders. He’s signed young, athletic free agents and promising rookies, all while constructing a roster that abides by new head coach Darvin Ham’s defense-first philosophy and 4-out 1-in system.
But while Pelinka might have started shuffling in the right direction this offseason, he still has a ways to go from correcting every single mistake he’s made. In fact, he’s yet to make his most significant decisions of this offseason as Russell Westbrook’s status on the Lakers and LeBron James’ contract extension remain uncertain.
In retrospect, there’s probably a universe where the Lakers could’ve avoided being in the mess that they currently find themselves in if only Pelinka hadn’t traded away draft picks like he was handing out flyers in the mall.
Because think about it: What if Pelinka only traded one or even two first-round picks instead of three to the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis? Los Angeles certainly had the leverage at that time. How about when Pelinka and company decided to let Dennis Schroder (who they traded the 28th overall pick in the 2020 Draft for) just walk in exchange for nothing in the 2021 offseason? Or when the Lakers thought Alex Caruso (who started in the clinching contest of the 2020 NBA Finals) and Marc Gasol (who they traded a second-round pick for) weren’t important enough to invest in long-term? And finally, how about when the Lakers decided to trade their 2021 first-round pick in addition to three high-end rotation players for a depreciating Westbrook last offseason?
Had he avoided any of those numerous negative asset swaps, Pelinka could easily be in the drivers’ seat in trade talks with the Nets’ Sean Marks or the Pacers’ Sean Buchanan. Going a step further, the Lakers’ present and future wouldn’t be in jeopardy if they just knew how to properly value their own assets. Now, they’re stuck in the middle of trade negotiations while remaining hesitant to give up what’s left of their draft capital as James looms in the background, pressuring the Lakers to regain his trust.
And with reportedly two potential trade packages to work with — in return for a couple of first-rounders and the right to pay out the final season of the worst contract in the league — the team has no choice but to bite the bullet and make a deal. So, the question for Pelinka is, how does he solve one problem without creating another?
That is why it’s now or never for Pelinka to save his job by reopening the Lakers’ title window that he played a huge part in closing in the first place. To do that, he needs to resolve the Lakers’ worst trade transaction in franchise history and secure James’ commitment while he’s at it. The next few weeks will determine if the general manager has learned a thing or two from his past, or if he’s willing to repeat the same mistakes he’s already made, dooming the Lakers, and his future with them.