Rob Pelinka is a lawyer and has probably heard the famous lawyer joke: What do you call a bunch of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. To many, Pelinka was born on third base but acted like he hit a triple. His best friend was Kobe Bryant. He partnered with Magic Johnson until he stabbed him in the back. He manipulated Jeanie Buss. Pelinka’s overall presence in Lakers upper management post-Magic Johnson had him bashed around the league as a traitor and neophyte. And because Pelinka didn’t have a social media presence and preferred to operate away from the limelight, he didn’t pushback on the negative judgments about him. He just went to work.
Pelinka was determined to get Anthony Davis and sweetened the deal with two additional draft picks which got David Griffin’s attention. Suddenly, Pelinka had his moment. He delivered to Los Angeles a big man who was a star somewhere else. Davis followed in the path of Pau Gasol, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Pelinka followed in the path of Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak.
Anthony Davis was 26 years old when he came to the Lakers. When Pau Gasol came to the Lakers he was 27 years old. Shaquille O’Neal was 24 years old when he came to the Lakers. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar was 28 years old. Wilt Chamberlain was 32 years old.
When Pelinka traded for Davis he was not in his prime. Although Davis finds a way to get injured often- he has never played an 80 game season and has only played 70+ games twice- Davis has been an All-Star every year except his rookie season. His career averages of 24 and 11 are something the Lakers haven’t seen since Shaq.
This season, Anthony Davis averaged 26 and 9. His last year in New Orleans, a difficult year because he wanted out, his offensive rating was 122 and his PER was 30.3. Even when things are going south, he delivers. This year his offensive rating was 121 and his PER was 27.4. Davis’ defensive rating was tied for second-best in his career, 102.
LeBron has never played with a talented big man the caliber of a Davis. Davis creates an abundance of mismatches that a defensive coach like Frank Vogel has taken advantage of. Vogel hit the lottery with a shot-blocker and rebounder and defender like Davis. Finishing second in DPOY is part of the reason why the Lakers were ranked 3rd in defensive rating this season. That hasn’t happened since the 1999-00 season when the Lakers were ranked 1st in defensive rating.
Davis is relishing this moment, his coming-out party, so to speak. During Finals media availability he said, “I plan to follow this [LeBron James] motherf—er to hopefully nine more Finals. We’re all ready to go.”
Davis is the key to a Heat matchup because how he asserts himself both offensively and defensively against talented and versatile Bam Adebayo will determine the outcome. During the regular season, Davis dominated Adebayo, a fellow Kentucky Wildcat.
- Anthony Davis: 59 points, 18 rebounds, 6 blocks
- Bam Adebayo: 23 points, 21 rebounds, 2 blocks
“I don’t want to have long gaps in between Finals. You look at [Rajon Rondo], he’s 10 years removed from his last Finals and Dwight Howard is 11 years out. I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to be here. I came to Los Angeles to contend for championships and I’ve put in the work to do so.”
Because Los Angeles covets superstars, the Davis acquisition eased the Pelinka pressure and it also retired the Magic Johnson era for good. The nuts and bolts of the GM job have now taken center stage. While surrounding the game is endless tediousness on social media platforms, the bottom line for a front office executive is did you deliver talent? Did you complete a roster? Is there financial flexibility? Is the team set for the future?
To those who say Pelinka finished the job Magic Johnson started, well you can say the same thing about Steve Kerr. He finished the job that Mark Jackson started. And Kawhi Leonard finished the job that DeMar DeRozan started. The end of the beginning, as Winston Churchill put it, matters way more than the beginning of the beginning.
What Pelinka does in the offseason, whether the Lakers win or lose, establishes how Pelinka will run the Lakers (or ruin them) in the next few years. It’s Pelinka’s job. He took ownership of it with the Davis trade. He has his first GM win and in the process, he put all the Magic vitriol and the ensuing media backlash behind him.
We are creatures of the moment. The last thing is the important thing. What Pelinka does in the years following the NBA Finals will determine if he has the capacity to do the guts and glory of the job. Can he build a team long term? Create a culture? Establish his legacy for the better? Does he have a plan for when LeBron James is retired?
Rob Pelinka’s most challenging year, after the death of his best friend, has been filled with anxiety, despair, joy, and anticipation. The Lakers are exactly where Rob Pelinka put them. He did his part (acquiring Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, Danny Green). Now it is up to the team he constructed to get the ring.