The Los Angeles Lakers have one game before they head into one of the most important offseasons in the franchise’s lengthy and storied history.
Massive changes could be coming to the roster, as the Lakers hope to get in the same room as impending free agents such as Kyrie Irving, unless they can land one of the other marquee names that will be on the market.
No matter how free agency unfolds, a second pursuit of New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis appears likely, which could throw the young Lakers back into trade rumors.
The trade rumors during the season reportedly played a role in the eventual demise of the 2018-19 Lakers. The talks were so heavy and public that Kyle Kuzma went to Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka for clarity and reassurance, according to The Athletic’s Bill Oram.
When Kuzma went to Charlotte for All-Star Weekend to participate in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge, he sought an audience with Pelinka. Kuzma and his people came away from their chat feeling reassured, a source close to the situation told The Athletic. Pelinka told the second-year forward that he was key to the Lakers’ future and that, unless it was a trade for one of the game’s three best players, he wasn’t trading him.
So, that’s the end of that, right? Not exactly. Oram continues in his piece (full article here) that Pelinka had a very similar discussion with Larry Nance Jr. one year earlier.
A year earlier, Larry Nance Jr. approached Pelinka with a similar question.
Nance Jr. and his fiancée, his college girlfriend, were interested in buying a house. He wanted to get a sense of whether the Lakers planned on keeping him around, and Pelinka told him that the Lakers would only trade him if it meant landing one of the game’s three best players. He told him to buy the house, multiple sources confirmed.
Before Nance could get that far, however, he received a call on the morning of Feb. 8, 2018. He and Jordan Clarkson had been traded to Cleveland in a salary dump that cleared cap space for the Lakers to be able to offer two max slots in the summer.
In Pelinka’s defense, that trade may have played a role in landing LeBron James in free agency last summer, as the Lakers could sell James on the idea of adding a second max free agent.
Perhaps Pelinka could sell it as the nature of the NBA. At the end of the day, it is a business and players get dealt to other teams quite often. But make no mistake about it, this is a bad look for Pelinka. Offering reassurance and then dealing Nance is something that might not sit right with players, both currently on the Lakers or players the team hopes to sign in free agency.
NBA front offices have to make moves and do what is right for their team. But it is important to remember the human element to their jobs. Pelinka’s reputation around the league has certainly taken a hit this season, seemingly with players and rival front office executives, or perhaps it has been that way and it is just coming to the surface.
If the Lakers want to be a free agent destination, they need to keep in mind that selling a winning product and formula is crucial, but so is the treatment of the players on their roster. With Pelinka’s reassurance to Kuzma out in the open now, if the Lakers youngster suffers that same fate as Nance, there will certainly be repercussions to deal with in the aftermath.
The next three months for the Lakers will be absolutely vital for the future of the franchise. The current forecast appears bleak. It’s up to Pelinka, Magic Johnson and the rest of the front office to right the ship this summer.
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