Rob Pelinka Conference Call Bullet Points
On Tuesday afternoon, Lakers VP of Basketball Ops/GM Rob Pelinka joined reporters on a Zoom call ahead of Wednesday’s gathering of the team at the practice facility with individual workouts set to resume ahead of the team’s July 9 scheduled departure for training camp at Disney World in Orlando.
Pelinka discussed the confirmed absence of Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard’s current status, the most important elements of the bubble concept towards keeping everybody safe, the challenges of sending a limited 35-person group, the NBA’s and the Lakers’ impact towards social justice issues and more.
Below are some of the key bullet points from the interview:
Pelinka confirmed reports that Avery Bradley, LAL’s defensive initiator on the perimeter who’d picked up his offense of late, would opt out of Orlando: “They had a family issue with one of Avery’s sons that was a health-related issue. For their family, they made a decision that the risk was too high given the medical situation, the extenuating circumstances around that, (Bradley) opted out of playing in Orlando. For us, that was a process we wanted to stay close with Avery and his family on, we were involved with and wanted to support him in his journey. But of course for our team it’s tough, it’s tough to lose Avery’s toughness, his defensive tenacity. He was a starter. But we completely understand his decision.”
I asked Pelinka if he’d discussed how they’d plan to replace Bradley, for whom Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started when Bradley was hurt early in the season, and if they’d use the open roster spot to add a replacement player: “It’s too early to really start to talk about rotation, starting lineup because this process is so fluid. We’re excited that right before the hiatus we added Dion Waiters and Markieff Morris. Obviously there’s going to be more time to integrate players like that, and then we’ll have this replacement player … We will sign a replacement player – that’s the plan, and with the restart protocol, July 1 is the first day we would be allowed to do that, which is tomorrow. We can’t really talk about forward-looking transactions under the NBA rules, but we are planning on signing a replacement player tomorrow.
Pelinka summarized the situation of Dwight Howard: “Dwight is another player of ours who has an extenuating circumstance in addition to some of the social justice messaging he’s been doing, which we’re supportive of. One of his sons, a 6-year-old son, did lose tragically his mother several weeks ago. We have been working very closely, and I’ve been in contact with Dwight often and his agent. As you guys know, there was an opt out date that Dwight did not give notice that he was opting out. We’re going to continue to work through those extenuating circumstances with Dwight, support him, support his 6-year-old son and hope for the best that he’d be a part of our roster in Orlando. But that will be a continued process.”
Here’s something that can really help the Lakers in this unique circumstance, according to Pelinka: “I think the core identity of our roster and who we are and how Frank (Vogel) and the coaching staff have utilized the roster is built on defense, built on versatility, and I don’t see that changing. We’re in a unique situation where we’ve had such a strong team chemistry that I think that platform is going to be seamless in terms of guys jumping on and being part of that identity and chemistry we already had formed. I don’t see that changing at all with the new additions just because it’s such a strong identity.”
What’s most important about the re-start in Orlando? Pelinka summarized: “The fundamental tenet of the plans around the NBA restart on campus in Orlando are ‘Can we create an environment there that is safer than an environment just in the real world.’ I think all of us see the reports and the numbers and the spikes in the very cities we live in and parts of Florida, and yes, of course those numbers are daunting. But the whole purpose of creating this environment is to not have the virus be there, or to try and keep the virus on the outside. The protocol is extensive. It’s thoughtful. It’s been hundreds and hundreds of hours of work by the NBA’s player’s union and by the NBA, and I think our goal as a collective entity is to try and pull that off, where it’s safer inside than it is outside … I have a high level of confidence in the plans that they put in place, and we will as an organization listen with the highest voice to our players, because they’re the ones who are going to be clearly in the front lines of playing basketball.”
Here’s where the Lakers may have an advantage, according to Pelinka: “Orlando itself is going to be as much of a mental test as it is a physical test because of the extraordinary circumstances there. I think a team like ours that has such a strong togetherness component will have an advantage at that part, because this team of guys loves being together, and they love playing together. That’s the significance of the 63 (regular season) games.” There’s one guy in particular that really helps the Lakers in that standpoint from a leadership standpoint: LeBron James. And his top lieutenant, Anthony Davis, is right there next to him. A few weeks ago, I asked Jared Dudley what L.A.’s advantage in Orlando could be in the context of veterans vs. young guys and how guys might be in shape mentally and physically, and he said, immediately, “LeBron and AD.”
Pelinka was asked about COVID-19 tests within the Lakers team and staff: “The NBA instituted, starting June 23, a league-wide protocol of testing for employees and players. The league is also doing communications around that. I think you guys all saw several days ago they listed their first communication about positive tests in the testing pool. We’re going to refer that question to the league and follow their testing protocol and their procedures for our players for now, and let the communication come from the league since it’s a league-mandated program.”
Pelinka’s plan is to travel with the team: “There are a handful of mandated league positions in the 35 traveling party and one of them is the lead basketball executive, so assuming I stay healthy and everything goes well, the plan would be that I go with the team.” He mentioned that his 10-year-old daughter started to cry at the dinner table the other night when thinking about her dad possibly being gone for three months if the Lakers were to stay for the duration, but added that she and his family understand the big picture.
Among the challenges for Orlando: “The process of having to go down to 35 is hard.” Generally speaking, there are between 50 and 60 people on a typical Lakers charter flight, included many of us in the back on the broadcast side (the local TV and radio broadcasts are not expected to be in Orlando, but producing the games remotely from respective home cities). Things have evolved considerably from even the 1980’s, when there was one assistant coach and one trainer, to today where there are not only multiple assistant coaches, but multiple video coordinators, and a vastly-increased training staff including massage therapists, physical therapists, strength coaches, nutritionists and so on.
Pelinka added that the list of 35 people is still fluid as things are figured out in more detail, but added that LAL have been keying in on the concept of “flex staffing, which he describes here: “We’re going to all have to call upon different things we can do and be servant-oriented for the players. If it means any of us pitching in to an area we don’t do in our day-to-day operations, we have to be able to do it. That’s been a constant source of dialogue internally … If we can’t bring our full staff, how do we make up for this woman or this man’s job? How do I pitch in and help with that? I think even for the staff members that don’t go, they will continue to do their jobs … they’ll just be doing it remotely.”
Social justice has been a major area of focus within the NBA community, and certainly within the Lakers community. “I think we’re incredibly proud of what our players are doing. I see such tremendous promise in just the attention around eliminating racial injustices and systematic injustices that we’re seeing as a nation.” He mentioned a moving and powerful speech that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a legend on and off the court) led that was illuminating to the players. Meanwhile, Pelinka attended a Black Lives Matter protest with his wife, 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter; he was very moved watching his kids take in the speakers, seeing their minds work and grow, and noted that they’ve started a dialogue within their family. His daughter wanted to watch the movies “Selma,” “Harriet Tubman,” “42” and “Just Mercy” and have family dinners to talk about those issues. And in fact, when Oprah Winfrey’s character in “Harriet Tubman” is disenfranchised, they were able to talk about LeBron’s super impressive. “More Than A Vote” platform.
Finally, there were a few questions about home-court advantage, or lack thereof, and Pelinka first mentioned that, when looking at the eight seeding games, he thinks the teams will be heavily focused upon what their potential playoff matchups will be. For the Lakers, “the goal is to use those games to get back to a winning mindset, to look at the implications on seeding, and to physically and mentally prepare ourselves to be in peak form by the time the playoffs start.” Later, he said there “Doesn’t appear that there will be anything built into the game play.” All the top seeds get is a certain lodging experience/hotel.
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