When Rob Pelinka was plucked from the world of NBA agents and given the title of general manager of the Lakers in 2017, it was franchise legend Magic Johnson who made the hire. At the time, the team’s coach was Luke Walton, an eight-year veteran of the Lakers who helped the team to championships in 2009 and 10. The club’s nucleus was built around a young core of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.
They’re all gone. After nearly two years of bungling and dysfunction, the Lakers have overhauled the front office, the coaching staff and the roster, but the one guy who has managed to survive through it all has been Pelinka.
On Friday, the team rewarded Pelinka for his staying power, announcing that the 50-year-old has been granted a promotion to the position of vice president of basketball operations, while maintaining his old GM position as well. He was granted a contract extension as well, according to ESPN.
Lakers Credit LeBron James Signing to Pelinka
The wording of the Lakers’ statement on Pelinka drew some notice.
“Pelinka orchestrated one of the biggest trades in franchise history last offseason, acquiring six-time All-Star Anthony Davis and signing key free agents to the revamped roster,” the press release said. “He also retooled the coaching staff, hiring a veteran group with a variety of experiences. During the 2018 offseason, Pelinka made one of the most significant signings in franchise history, with the acquisition of four-time MVP LeBron James.”
According to virtually all reporting on the situation, Pelinka had little to do with the signing of James—that deal was worked out primarily with Johnson, who met with James at his home at the opening of free agency in 2018 and got James to sign the next day.
But the Lakers have severed their relationship with Johnson, which took a stunning turn last April when Johnson abruptly quit. He later went on television and said that Pelinka had repeatedly gone behind his back to spread negativity about Johnson.
“When all of this was coming back to me,” Johnson said last May, “and guys were calling me, ‘You better watch out for (Pelinka).’ What’s crazy was, when I took the job, you know how many agents called me and said, ‘You gotta watch out for him’? If you’re gonna talk betrayal, it’s only with Rob.”
Still, as the last man standing in the front office, Pelinka does deserve some measure of credit for the Lakers’ current position. The team is 30-7, which ranks first in the west and No. 2 overall. The Lakers traded away the young pieces they had when Pelinka took the job and now have a team built around Davis and James.
Of course, around the league, the acquisition of Davis is largely credited to the influence of James’ agent, Rich Paul, who also represents Davis and pushed for months to get him to L.A. to join forces with James.
And while the hiring of coach Frank Vogel to replace Walton has, so far, worked out well for the Lakers, the team did falter in its dealings with two other candidates, Monty Williams and Tyronn Lue, this offseason before settling on Vogel.
But the Lakers are a contender again and, somehow, Pelinka has managed to stay afloat with the organization throughout three years of turmoil. Someone’s got to get a promotion and some credit, so it might as well be Pelinka.