A crucial period is coming for Rob Pelinka, Lakers

EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 27: Los Angeles Lakers general manager, Rob Pelinka, smiles as he speaks to the press during Los Angeles Laker media day at UCLA Health Training Center on September 27, 2019 in El Segundo, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers are down bad. They’ve lost five in a row following their 122-115 defeat at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas, marking the worst stretch in a season that has basically been one long bad stretch.

As has been the case this year, there’s a myriad of factors contributing to this five-game losing streak. For starters, Anthony Davis has missed the past four games after leaving early against the Timberwolves on December 17th due to an MCL sprain he suffered in the contest. In addition, the Lakers are still yet to bring back a significant amount of players from COVID-19 health and safety protocols. It’s improved since that Timberwolves contest where Isaiah Thomas notched 21 minutes in a game he played most likely less than 48 hours after putting pen to paper to sign with the team. However, it hasn’t really improved enough to have a sizable, positive impact on the team as Trevor Ariza, Austin Reaves, Kent Bazemore, and Rajon Rondo (in addition to Frank Vogel) remain in protocols at the time of this article.

Those players should return over the next week or so, but Davis will be out until what seems to be February. Currently in the seventh seed in the Western Conference with a 16-18 record, the Lakers cannot wait until then to start rattling off wins. Because of that and the fluid contracts that Rob Pelinka (and LeBron “LeGM” James) have on the roster, the next few months will be crucial for the team’s front office if they are to re-tool the team to prime them for a championship run.

The trade deadline is on February 10th. However, Pelinka and company will have to make some important decisions before the buyout market takes shape a couple of weeks prior to the trade deadline. This is mostly due to the team’s need to waive Avery Bradley prior to January seventh unless they want to pay him for the rest of the season. The 15th and final player signed to the roster, Bradley has been playing more than players like DeAndre Jordan, Kent Bazemore, and Rajon Rondo in recent weeks.

This also doesn’t take into consideration the team’s most recent 10-day, hardship exception signings in Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson, with the latter of those putting on a great defensive performance on Christmas Day against James Harden and the Nets that showed just how much the Lakers’ roster needed a wing with his physical attributes.

Even with the sheer magnitude of how bad the Lakers’ injury and COVID-19 problems have been (you can see they lead the league in players’ missed games above), Pelinka and the front office have made mistakes around the margins while building this roster. The fit of Russell Westbrook around LeBron James and Anthony Davis aside, it’s become abundantly clear that Rondo and Jordan are not NBA-caliber players anymore despite being signed far before players like Avery Bradley or Stanley Johnson. The coaching staff has seemingly agreed with at least part of this thinking as Jordan did not play at all on Christmas despite team only having one other center on the roster (Dwight Howard hardly played but that may be due to him ramping up after being out with COVID-19 for so long).

So what will Pelinka do? We’ve all heard how much Frank Vogel appreciates what Bradley brings to this team despite him being the final signing to the roster before the season began. The Lakers haven’t been too active in trades leading up to the deadline in the past two seasons, but they have been active in the buyout market bringing Markieff Morris in during the 2019-20 season and Andre Drummond in last year. However, in both of those situations, the Lakers didn’t have a decision to make like the one they have in Bradley. In those two instances, they had a 15th roster spot completely open, something they were planning to do this year before a wave of injuries hit the team during the preseason. All of that also doesn’t address the fact that Stanley Johnson looks like he could fill a role on this team while in the middle of a 10-day contract.

Would Pelinka buy out DeAndre Jordan instead of waiving Bradley? Or maybe Rajon Rondo? Kent Bazemore?

Given the fact that the Lakers are 16-18 in a season that many predicted could be the 18th championship for the franchise, every single decision will be on the table for the Lakers. But the work won’t start right before the trade deadline. It’s already started, and it’ll only continue to heat up and get more interesting in the coming weeks as the team has 10 days to decide whether or not they will pay Bradley for the rest of the season or waive him.

No matter what the Lakers decide, that most likely won’t be the last (or even second-to-last) tough decision that Rob Pelinka has to make.

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