The Los Angeles Lakers made an abrupt shift in leadership last season when owner Jeanie Buss ousted Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak from their positions and replaced them with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.
Johnson had been installed as an advisor to Jeanie Buss in the weeks prior to her decision, and it was only hours before word leaked out that Pelinka would be joining him in the Lakers’ overhauled front office. Although, that move couldn’t become official for a few weeks as Pelinka began divesting himself of his player clients.
While how quickly everything came together always seemed to imply that Buss’ coup was long in the planning. Beyond the somewhat unorthodox hiring of Pelinka, one aspect of it was Buss could discuss the job without alerting her brother, as explained by Sam Amick of USA Today:
But Pelinka, who represented Kobe for 18 of his 20 years in the NBA and also had former Lakers Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza as clients, was also someone she knew and trusted. What’s more, the fact he didn’t work for an NBA team meant Jeanie could recruit him without seeking the kind of formal permission that would have tipped off Jim Buss and Kupchak to her plan.
“We were having lunch one day, just casually – and she (says), ‘Well, Magic is amazing at casting the vision, and big picture stuff, but I need a cap expert; I need someone who understands the business of the NBA, someone who can implement his vision,’ and she was like, ‘Someone like you, Rob,’” Pelinka remembered. “From there, it was just like a light bulb went on for everybody and it just unfolded.”
This isn’t exactly a shocking revelation, but it is still the first official confirmation that Buss was looking into her next options for management long before she actually sacked her Jim and Kupchak.
While the Lakers not looking very far beyond their circle of people they have personal experience with in going with Pelinka rather than casting a wider search could be viewed as a negative, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Yes, it’s trendy for team’s to go after an up-and-coming cap or analytics guru from another organization, but those moves hardly bat 100 percent, either. No option does, and the Lakers going with someone Jeanie and Johnson knew they could work with shouldn’t be immediately viewed as negative.
As anyone who has worked in an office environment can attest, no one is going to like everyone they work with, but when working with people one can be friendly with and have chemistry alongside, it can make productivity a lot easier.
After the dysfunction that defined Jeanie’s and Jim’s relationship while running the Lakers, it’s totally understandable that she was looking to find someone she already knew she had an easy dynamic with who also just so happen to be qualified to fill the role she’s looking for.
Even though he has never run a team before, Pelinka clearly ticks a lot of the boxes someone would want from a general manager candidate. He’s demonstrated the ability to recruit players, has a mastery-level understanding of the salary cap and he clearly knows the league inside and out.
Would the Lakers have really been any better served by casting a wider net only to end up hiring Pelinka anyway if his familiarity put him over the top?
Probably not, which is why although this might seem like the latest signs of palace intrigue in the Lakers, it makes sense that Jeanie went with the quieter plan rather than dragging out her brother and Kupchak’s departures with rumors and scuttlebutt had she started surveying other league executives midseason.
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