Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka speak at their exit interview on April 13, 2018.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

2018 Exit Interviews: Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka addressed assembled media after completing the 2017-18 exit interviews with each player on the roster.

Below is a summary of the Q and A:

- To start, I asked Magic and Pelinka how the growth of the young players may impact their approach and plan moving forward:

Magic: “I was very excited about the growth of our young players. It started with Julius changing his body. Last year at this time Rob and I challenged Julius to do that, and he had his best season as a pro. This season we’re challenging Lonzo and B.I., and the rest of the guys, but especially them because they only played 50 something games. But we were very happy about the way Lonzo performed. We feel he can go to another level if he changes his body and is able to stay on the court. We challenged Brandon and said you should be between 15 and 20 points and you saw what happened. He’s probably the most versatile player we have on the team. He’s big time, he has a high ceiling because he’s so long, so athletic and he can beat you in multiple ways. Then when you look at Kyle Kuzma and the job that he was able to do night in and night out, everybody thought what he did in Summer League he couldn’t step up and do in the NBA and he proved a lot of people wrong. So we’re excited about Kyle, but also we challenged him, because ‘OK, you did it this year but what are you gonna do next year?’ And then Josh Hart, if we could have 20 of ‘em, this guy is unbelievable. He’s a winner, he’s tough, he plays on both ends of the court. He’s one of the best rebounding guards in the league. If you think about the guy from OKC after him I think Josh is second as a rebounding guard. We feel he can do a lot of different things for our team. I think our upside and the future of this franchise is bright.”

Pelinka: “If we want to talk about any healthy process unfolding, if I could use a metaphor, I think how we look at things is more like a river than a lake. As the team is growing, our strategy is fluid and changing. Earvin sets the tone, and we wanted to set a tone for our exit interviews that was very different from last year. Our job last year was to provide support and service … we need to put a system in place to (provide excellence). We’ve worked really hard to put that system in place. So we want to change the narrative for this exit interview season from support and service to, ‘OK, what are you going to do with what we’ve put in place for you to utilize?’ Greatness does not just happen, greatness is a choice and a decision. So we know that the young players in the league learn by images (like Instagram and Snapchat) … images drive a lot of thinking. Earvin and I put together a lookbook that has images in it of what have some of the great players looked like physically as a rookie. You take a great player as a rookie, then you fast forward a year or two and say what did that player commit to, to transform their game. It’s side by side images. We said to Lonzo, B.I., Kuzma, Zu, Josh Hart … what did it take from image No. 1 to get to (image No. 2 as an) All-Star? They said, That’s hours and hours of dedication.’ Earvin has set the tone that we have a goal next year to be in the playoffs, and to get there, our guys have to transform themselves physically like Julius Randle did. There are articles on some of these All-Stars in how they invest millions of dollars (in their bodies). Our young guys are starting to understand that’s what it takes.”

- Pelinka continued to explain the message he gave in exit interviews, which included a look at what all the current players in the playoffs right now are doing: “What were great players like Magic and Kobe doing in April and May? They were competing in the playoffs. We said, ‘What are you guys doing right now in April, May and June so you’re staying at the top of the pack?’ We said, ‘Now that we have the system in place for you guys to choose greatness.’ How these guys respond in their playoffs, this year, is going to inform what we do in the draft and free agency.

- Here’s Magic on Lonzo, starting with all-around praise, then flipping to what he needs to keep developing: “You don’t have to worry about Lonzo. He was able to live up to a lot of the expectations, but it was cut short because he got hurt. When you look at his stat line it’s impressive. We have two of the best rebounding guards in this league with Lonzo and Josh Hart. And you think about how he makes his teammates better. Lonzo is a master at that. Now I need him to be more aggressive when he goes to that basket. Now he has to be (more) selfish. Look to score. Develop a couple more shots, the floater, mid-range. It was a good meeting, and a tough meeting, because I think when you have to talk direct to a player about what they have to improve on, that can be tough because we like him so much, because we want him to be great. Both of our jobs is to help him to get there. You’re going to see from this season to next season an improved Lonzo Ball.

- Pelinka and Magic also challenged both Lonzo and Ingram to evolve next year as leaders, especially in crucial moments in the game, when they ‘Have to say something.’ Neither is a particularly vocal player on the court, which is something that the front office wants to see evolve.

- Magic was asked about changing Lonzo’s shot: “We’re not going to change Lonzo’s shot. We’re going to make sure (he puts) more time in to be more consistent with it.” (and with his free throws as well). When he was missing he was off balance or rushing it. Or when he caught it and felt like he had to get it up fast. But the other times, when he was consistent on his balance, when he didn’t rush, it either was straight and had a chance to go in or it went in.”

- Pelinka and Magic both mentioned their desire for Ball to get much better at the free throw line (45.1 percent): “Your mindset when you get fouled is to say thank you for fouling me,” Pelinka explained. Ball only attempted 71 free throws on the season, a very small sample size, and some of that could have had to do with confidence in making them upon getting to the line. Of course, it wasn’t just Ball that struggled at the free throw line, for a team that ranked last in the NBA all season, which Magic said was “disappointing.”

- To conclude, I asked Magic and Pelinka about how their relationship with Luke Walton evolved over the season, and how much credit he should get for building the culture that led to a defensive improvement from 30th last season in efficiency to 12th this season:

- Magic: “Luke and I had a lot of great conversations, not just in the office but when he was on the road … I just like the way that he was able to handle all the situations especially with the injuries. The one thing we talked about to Luke was the defense had to improve, and the defense did. Now we have to take that defense to a championship defense, so a playoff defense. Matter of fact, we’re going to have a retreat together – Rob, Luke and I – and just talk basketball, future, players, player development. We really bonded and formed a great relationship, Luke and I, and we look forward to working with Luke for many years to come."

- Pelinka: “The trait in Luke I was most impressed by is his fiery competitiveness. He’s just a pitbull … (and) the relationship is strong. We’re excited about what he’s going to do next year and how he’s going to grow this offseason.” Pelinka then talked about how he had breakfast with Kobe the other day, and Bryant was showing him clips of the show Kobe is producing for the NBA playoffs, which included some tape of Walton on the court with Kobe as a player. Kobe would point out times where Walton would make the perfect pass, or cut to the right spot, or just make a smart basketball play. Pelinka said he was reminded of the fiery competitiveness and the smart play Walton embodied.

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