Rob Pelinka, LeBron James, and Frank Vogel are the Spider-Man meme right now. Nobody wants to step up and acknowledge the hand they have in the team’s struggles. Those struggles are constant, too. To swing back to Pelinka — he will always draw slander. As the official decision-maker of basketball operations, he’s the architect. He grabs the groceries before the menu is set. Of course, he’s going to carry the official responsibility of the team’s successes and failures.
The recent rumors of a rift between Klutch Sports and Pelinka more than shows fans that there’s no alignment. Pelinka is viewed as someone who’s not kept the ship steady since winning a championship. Allow me to look back and clean up some of these angry beliefs about what Pelinka has and hasn’t done.
When the Lakers were held hostage by Kawhi Leonard’s free agency, it put constraints on their roster building. Rather than grab shooters like Steph Curry — or reunite with D’Angelo Russell — they pivoted to other options. They ended up with Danny Green, Avery Bradley, and Dwight Howard. This team became a defensive juggernaut alongside James, Anthony Davis, Alex Caruso, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and company. Pelinka’s communication with players amidst the free agency hold-up turned out well. They even got arguably the most productive buyout player ever in Markieff Morris later in the season. His addition provided the team with a unique versatility that was hell on teams in the NBA Bubble.
Remember the shooting he did against the Houston Rockets?
Somehow and some way, they were able to piece together a team nearly overnight. They capped it off by putting on the finish touches before entering and conquering the Orlando Bubble. That’s the sign of management foresight that worked, and ended in success.
The next season, the Lakers brass went back to work.
There were concerns about offensive woes when LeBron and AD would leave the floor. The team had the defense. They were injected with just enough youth and experience, but they could use a punch of scoring. Pelinka used the expiring deal of Danny Green and their 2020 NBA Draft pick to bring in Dennis Schröder, the Sixth Man of the Year runner-up. In free agency, they added the 6th Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell alongside Marc Gasol.
Not only did they find a quick solution for offense, but they brought in a defensive mind in Gasol that fit right into Coach Frank Vogel’s philosophy. Despite a bevy of injuries, they kept afloat as one of the league’s best teams until too many of those ailments were too heavy to hold up. LeBron and AD missed extended time at the same time.
When they needed more talent, they again dove into the buyout market. This time, they brought in Andre Drummond to hold the fort down while the team was battling COVID and injuries. Unfortunately, this led to a soured relationship with Gasol, which can be a mark against the front office. He was pretty much exiled to the bench.
It was a move with risks, with both LeBron and AD having a hand in the recruitment of Drummond according to the big man in his introductory press conference:
Having that conversation with those two guys [LeBron and AD] and what they were looking for for me was something I was willing and excited to do for this franchise.
With limited assets, Pelinka and the front office were able to make over the roster around LeBron and AD. At its healthiest, it was one of the best teams across the league. There was no hesitation to accommodate their stars and keep them in the hunt, yet again.
A first-round exit to the Phoenix Suns — the eventual NBA Finalists — ended the Lakers’ 2020-21 season. In many ways, they were back in the same boat of desiring playmaking amidst inconsistency from last year’s additions.
Pelinka again scoured the NBA landscape to see where they could move and shake. The NBA Draft was around the corner, and immediately after would start free agency. A deal was found, for the then sharpshooting Sacramento Kings guard, Buddy Hield. It involved trading Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, as well as their 2021 NBA Draft first-round pick.
But at the same time, the stars were fielding much bigger fish including Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook would end up as the prize to fit into both the Lakers’ and their stars’ wants and budget. The Hield deal was dead, as the stars were able to sway the front office that Westbrook would bring more to the table.
It was written, and the team flipped their identity in the drop of a hat. Caruso, Kuzma, Harrell, and their 2021 1st round pick were sent to the Washington Wizards, with the pick being routed to the Indiana Pacers. The Lakers went from a defensive juggernaut to a three-headed monster.
They subsequently rounded out their roster with Carmelo Anthony, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk amongst other names. Monk and Melo have been bright spots of the season. Two players who’ve always been in the eye of LeBron. Nunn has yet to play this season due to injury. According to reports, James inquired about Monk last season before the Lakers landed him.
We don’t have to get into the disastrous things that ensued after the team was put together. It’s about going forward and trying to salvage what’s left of the year. After one year at the top of the league, the team is still struggling with the same old injuries, something no one on the team or executives can control.
For some reason, frustrations continue to bubble between both sides. One thing is for sure, there’s a lot of ire pushed towards the front office. They’ve let the team down a bit, but to say they haven’t always done what they could is false. Every year they’ve attempted to address their needs, but fate hasn’t turned in their favor. Rob Pelinka has his flaws, but his strengths and initiative have led to success for the team.
He’s made his share of costly moves, and the most recent non-trade complaint seems to be one he doesn’t want on that list. At this point, all parties involved have to sit in the disappointment that’s come from their decisions.
Along with that, there needs to be a realization that they are least tried.