President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson sits next to General Manager Rob Pelinka at the latter's introductory press conference on March 10, 2017.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Pelinka, Johnson Outline Franchise's Path

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Rob Pelinka took away plenty of lessons from nearly two decades as an agent in the NBA. One of the most important came at the house of the late Lakers owner, Dr. Jerry Buss.

When Pelinka’s star client, Kobe Bryant, grew frustrated with the Lakers’ lack of postseason success in May 2007, Dr. Buss invited Pelinka and Bryant to discuss the team’s future.

Pelinka was taken away by the amount of collaboration that Dr. Buss encouraged and — having been introduced as the Lakers’ General Manager on Friday — aims to replicate that in his new position within the franchise’s front office.

“We are all gonna come together like Dr. Buss envisioned and we’re gonna collaborate,” Pelinka said. “We’re gonna exchange ideas. People’s opinions are going to be shared and respected. Jeanie (Buss) and Earvin (“Magic” Johnson) are going to guide the vision and we are all going to architect it.”

Jeanie Buss, Pelinka, Johnson and head coach Luke Walton represent the Lakers’ leadership heading into this new era of the franchise.

Johnson, the team’s President of Basketball Operations, sat beside Pelinka at the press conference and dubbed him his “running mate” in the front office.

Johnson applauded Pelinka for sharing a similar vision but also being “strong where I’m weak.” Specifically, Pelinka has thorough knowledge of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement and salary cap.

He immediately put that information into practice by going through an exercise with Johnson earlier, as they analyzed the next five free agent classes and figured out how much money they could offer certain targets compared to how much their current team could.

“He’s competitive like I am,” Johnson said. “He wants to win. He knows how to win. He’s an expert at the new CBA. He’s teaching me the CBA right now as we speak. He understands the salary cap. He has relationships throughout the league, which is very important.

“He understands college talent because he’s been recruiting them for many, many years to represent them. He understands the new-age player, because he represented so many of them.”

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While Pelinka and Johnson will take charge of the team’s Basketball Operations department, Co-Owner and Governor Jeanie Buss will work closely with both men.

Pelinka commended Buss, who also put Johnson in his position, for being an “incredible leader” while transitioning the Lakers through this new management.

He envisions winning a championship with Buss, which would be a special moment for him and his 6-year-old daughter.

“If we can work hard and stay committed to have a woman owner of a sports franchise raise a trophy with us,” Pelinka said, “I look at my daughter, Emory, and I say, ‘Your opportunities in this world are endless. Look what Jeanie’s done.’”

Pelinka acknowledged that the franchise has plenty of work to do before reaching that apex, but firmly stated that he believes it has a championship-caliber coach in the 36-year-old Walton.

“We could not have a better coach,” Pelinka said, beginning to speak directly to Walton. “I’ve had an opportunity to work with players around the league. Uniformly — and I don’t know how this is possible — everyone loves you.

“You have this genuine honesty and coolness about you that just makes every player in the league want you to be their coach. And we’re gonna capitalize on that and make sure you have the best talent in the world.”

Pelinka sees it as his responsibility to give Walton the tools to win by building up the Lakers’ roster.

He is pleased with the crop of young players, but cited the team’s second-to-worst record in the NBA as evidence of needed changes.

“We have some really, really strong, young talent on this team,” Pelinka said. “But in terms of accountability we’re 29th out of 30 teams, and that’s not acceptable. We have to get better talent for Luke to coach. So we have to develop our young players, and there are some extraordinary young players, but we have to add to that core, too.”

Pelinka thinks that his experience as an agent will serve him well in courting free agents to the Lakers.

He said that “every single agent in the NBA” knows that the Lakers are the best platform for maximizing a player’s marketing potential.

“Twenty years really give you an insight into what’s important to players and agents,” Pelinka said. “We have to build really strong relationships in that area. If you’ve walked in those shoes, it helps you relate and build those bridges.”

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