Rob Pelinka is a lawyer and probably has 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 that relationship soured. 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 push back on the negative judgments about him. He just went to work.
Pelinka was determined to get Anthony Davis and when he pulled off the deal of a lifetime 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.
When Pelinka traded for Davis, the 26-year old was not yet 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 10 are something the Lakers haven’t seen since Shaq.
Davis once said, “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. Right out the gate, he delivered. The GM job is firmly embedded in his hands. No one is ripping it away. And while surrounding the game is endless tediousness on social media platforms, meant to distract and entertain, the bottom line for Pelinka is pretty basic: 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.
With the Davis trade, Pelinka took control of the Lakers and he won a title. It proved Pelinka has talent for the gig. He had his first GM win and in the process, he put all the Magic vitriol and the ensuing media backlash behind him while adding another banner.
We are creatures of the moment. The last thing is the important thing. Building a team with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo looks, on paper, like a bunch of old out of their prime All-Stars who are going to get roasted by the younger Suns, Jazz, Mavericks, and Blazers. But the games aren’t played on paper. Pelinka is betting on experience, toughness, and leadership. His Lakers rewind which he ran by Davis and James for approval has Rob Pelinka in a familiar place. A lot of second-guessing. A lot of head-scratching.
He’s not afraid of risks and doing the unthinkable, nor is he totally married to analytics that demands elite shooters around LeBron James. What Pelinka did, in fact, was the easy road. He grabbed proven players and dropped them into Frank Vogel’s lap. It is Vogel who has to come up with a system to satisfy the egos and style of play while Pelinka watches from the luxury box.
With Anthony Davis and LeBron James, it’s a problem every coach would love to have. How to make Russell Westbrook fit. (Carmelo is a scorer. His fit is seamless but his defense? Not so much.) And what about Rondo and Marc Gasol? How is that going to work?
Perhaps for the first time in LeBron James professional history, no one can say for sure how his team is going to mesh. It could be a disaster or it could be epic. Like James, Pelinka swung for the fences, but we have to wait. Is it a home run, this new Lakers iteration?
Or is it a predictable out with men in scoring position and the Lakers appearing average and ancient?