It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have been wildly unsuccessful in free agency recently. Through a litany of reasons, the team has not been able to sign top targets, often even missing out on meeting with the best free agents.
One major reason for the firing of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, as well as the hiring of new GM Rob Pelinka, was that lack of success in free agency. By hiring a former agent to be the general manager of the team, the Lakers are hoping to increase their chances of bringing a star back to LA.
On Friday, Pelinka appeared on The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski and while he spent the majority of the interview saying the word “excellence,” Pelinka also spoke at length about how the Lakers aim to turn their free agency luck around:
We [agents] had a periscope into all 30 teams and kind of how they operated. Of course, we’re going to take bits and pieces of positive things that I experienced along the way and incorporate them. We’re also going to try to do things that the other 29 teams aren’t doing at all. But I think if there’s one thing that we want to hang our hat on, it’s really communication. I found in the former life as someone who represented players that the front offices and the coaches that were committed to collaborative, quick, and transparent communication with players and agents were the ones that you wanted to form partnerships with. I’ve had great conversations with some of the preeminent agents, with some of our players, and they have said already that they think the communication flow is different than what they’ve experienced before and that’s something I’m going to take personal responsibility for. That’s something that’s really, really important for us.”
Pelinka also offered the age-old tale of Los Angeles and the Lakers’ legacy being a major selling point in free agency pitches with the caveat that the team cannot “rest on their laurels” and assume that brand will bring in free agents:
“What you can’t do is say that because we’re LA, because we’re the Lakers we can rest on those laurels. To me, that would be the huge mistake. You have to say because we’re LA and because we’re the Lakers, we have even more of a responsibility for greatness because it’s such a unique place and the legacy of championships is so strong. I think all 30 teams, you have to look at through a unique lens. We feel with ours, we’re blessed with the unique advantages of living here. There is no team that has the global reach that the Lakers have. That’s a gift that we get to have. There is no city that has the relationships that exist here, in entertainment and other areas. Are those a competitive advantage? I guess you could call it whatever you want but I think our job is to say those tools exist. How do we amplify them and how do we make them intersect with a player’s career so that everyone is reaping the benefits that are deserved.”
In the end, Pelinka seems optimistic that the Lakers will have more success in free agency under this new leadership:
“The first two or three weeks have been so encouraging because both Magic and I have talked to most of the top agents and the feedback we’re getting is there feels like a fresh start there. It feels like a new leadership team with a new vision and people are excited about hopefully becoming a part of that. At the end of the day, we know how important it is to have good relationships with these agents that represent these players and we want to build really strong bridges. I think having done that for almost 20 years, the word I keep coming back to is the word empathy. I’ve walked in their shoes, I know what it’s like, I know what their clients are looking for in a team to partner with and that’s helpful for us to meet those needs and so far, we’re very optimistic that those relationships are being strengthened and that we’re going to have a shot to change what’s happened in the last two or three seasons with future free agent classes.”
That particular quote is interesting as it would seem to verify, to some extent, rumors that certain players (Cough Paul George) are veery much eyeing the Lakers in free agency. Pelinka has been very open in making that known, citing Luke Walton as a primary reason for that interest, something that he reiterated on Woj’s podcast.
Time will tell whether all of this is just media talk or if there is some truth to what Pelinka is saying. We know that the previous regime was not always vocal in the media and there are reports that their inclination to do things by the book (e.g. no tampering) may have rubbed agents and players the wrong way.
Pelinka does not have experience as a general manager but his long time as an agent could certainly help in that regard. There are plenty more factors that come into play but for now, Rob Pelinka’s message is one of optimism.