With the Los Angeles Lakers still trending in the wrong direction, team governor Jeanie Buss made sweeping changes in February 2016. She fired brother Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak, and replaced them with Magic Johnson and eventually Rob Pelinka, respectively.
Prior to being named Lakers president of basketball operations, Johnson was serving as an adviser to Jeanie. Pelinka was an NBA agent who worked closely with the Lakers for 20 seasons, having represented Kobe Bryant, among others.
Johnson and Pelinka spoke of restoring the franchise to its once-proud state. Considering how much time was remaining in the 2016 season when they were appointed control of the front office, their focus was on laying a foundation.
From there, it was about building upon that, which the team successfully did under second-year head coach Luke Walton. Johnson and Pelinka challenged Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and the rest of the team to utilize the tools that have been put in place to take another leap forward.
As for their experience, Johnson and Pelinka have enjoyed the process of developing relationships with players and the coaching staff. “For me it’s really just learning the players, understanding one through 15, one through 12, their mentality. Watching them in practice, how they practice, how they go about their job,” Johnson explained.
“Just talking to them, also to getting a chance to know Luke and the coaching staff. We came in, we didn’t know anybody so we had to get to know everybody. For me, that was the biggest learning curve. Rob brought in knowledge of the (salary) cap and all of those type of things, so we had that covered.”
Despite inexperience in their respective positions, Jeanie hiring the tandem to lead the Lakers front office appeared to be a strong fit on paper, and it’s carried out in reality. “Magic has a keen ability to, just like when he played, in the heat of the battle, in the heat of the moment, he’s running the break and there’s five different options and he’s got to choose one,” Pelinka said.
“I like to be the guy that’s bringing the five options to the table. There’s been a harmony and a beauty from the trades we’ve done to the roster decisions we’ve made, it’s been a real joy for me to work side-by-side with him.”
Together, Johnson and Pelinka have transitioned from sharing more of a friendship with Jeanie to that of her being their superior. “That’s been fun for both of us. Meeting with her all the time, going over the strategy, getting her input and opinion, that’s been fun,” Johnson said.
“It’s different when you’re friends. Both Rob and I were her friends first. Now she’s our boss so it’s a total different thing but we have enjoyed working day-to-day with Jeanie Buss. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Pelinka added: “One of the goals we had at the beginning of our work tenure was to make sure there was lockstep in the communication and philosophy with Jeanie, Earvin, myself and Luke. Those things have to be flowing. We saw that all year, which is exciting.”