Late last February, Los Angeles Lakers owner and president Jeanie Buss sent shockwaves throughout the league with her firing of brother, Jim, and general manager Mitch Kupchak. Magic Johnson was immediately named head of the front office, and Rob Pelinka was hired shortly after.
Together, they brought about a renewed energy and sense of optimism. Pelinka often spoke about revamping and restoring the Lakers brand. Just over one year later, he and Johnson have the franchise on the upswing, and now challenged their young core to take a leap forward.
“We wanted to set a tone for our exit interviews this year that was very different than last year. We felt like our job in those exit interviews was to provide support and service,” Pelinka explained.
“And to say, ‘We’re coming here to re-establish Lakers excellence around our guys.’ We need to put a system in place to do that, and we feel we worked really hard the last 12 months since those exit meetings to put that system in place.
“So we wanted to change the narrative for this exit-interview season from support and service to, ‘OK, now as a player, what are you going to do with what we put in place for you to utilize?’ Because greatness does not just happen. Greatness is a choice and a decision.”
With an understanding that the current generation relies heavily on and are captivated by imagery, Pelinka created lookbooks to serve visual representation of how he wants players to transform their bodies during the offseason.
Pelinka didn’t reveal names (avoiding a tampering fine) but said the personalized packets were comprised of images of “some of the great players, the transcendent, First Team All-NBA, MVP-type players.”
They side-by-side photographs showed the designated players in their rookie seasons and one or two years ahead. During an appearance on ESPN’s ‘The Jump,’ Kyle Kuzma revealed his lookbook contained photos of Kobe Bryant and Giannis Antetokounmpo as rookies, and once they were All-Stars.
“We said to Lonzo, we said to B.I., we said to Kuz, we said Zu, all the young guys, Josh Hart, ‘What did it take to get from image No. 1 — young rookie image — to All-Star, playoff player, MVP contender? What did it take? We asked them a question,” Pelinka said.
“And they said, ‘That’s hours and hours and hours of dedication on committing to your body and transforming your body to become great.’ Earvin has set the tone that we have a goal next year to be in the playoffs. We know to get there, our guys have to transform themselves physically in this offseason. Literally transform themselves like Julius Randle did. We need that times five, times six, times seven, with all of our players.”
While the Lakers missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, Pelinka added the message he and Johnson delivered during exit interviews was that the summer was to be treated like the playoffs.
“How these guys respond in their playoffs this year is going to inform us on what we do around the Draft and in free agency,” Pelinka said. “This is a critical, critical time. I love that Magic said to Lonzo on his way out, ‘This is going to be the biggest offseason of your life.’”