Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka joined selected reporters on a conference call immediately following L.A.’s unexpected jump from No. 11 to No. 4 in the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery.
Originally holding just a 9.4 percent chance to move into the top four, the Lakers did just that, as forward Kyle Kuzma represented the squad in a purple suit in Chicago, delivering the biggest upward jump of any team. Only the Pelicans and Grizzlies joined the Lakers in moving up (six spots apiece), with eight teams moving down, and three squads remaining in their most likely spot.
Here’s a transcript of the call with Pelinka:
On his immediate reaction:
Pelinka: This is a powerful asset for us. Our focus right now is going to be on doing all we can to have an incredibly successful year next year.
On moving up seven spots, and if that impacts the offseason options to trade or keep the pick:
Pelinka: We had scouting meetings with (Director of Scouting and Assistant GM) Jesse Buss and our scouts, and of course our focus was more around 11, because that’s where the huge probability was resting. But now it shifts, what we can get at four. I will tell you there are some incredibly talented, impact players there that we’re going to study deeply. And then of course we’ll canvas the league and see what value that pick has. But either of those options is an extraordinary win for the franchise … I already talked to Jeanie Buss and she is just thrilled. I think it should really be exciting for our fans. It’s an unexpected event for the Lakers and we’re certainly really blessed.
On if leaping into the Top 4 changes the offseason prospects from what they’d have been at No. 11:
Pelinka: I think it’s an extraordinary shift for us. Top five picks in the draft, if you go back in history and study them, those picks can alter and impact franchises. I think this is a big moment for us. Last year of course we had to go through some hard and difficult things, but this is certainly a great silver lining. I think our dedication is really towards our fans right now, and doing all we can next year to deliver a really special Lakers season for our fans.
On going through these last few weeks and coming out with the No. 4 pick:
Pelinka: I think the biggest motto is just laser focused, head down, do the work. I think that we’ve been trying as an organization to just be methodical and continue a path forward, and doing the work. Our job is to put in the work to make the Lakers a successful organization for our fanbase, and that’s really the course and the path we’ve been on. This is just a burst of good will for us as a franchise. It just gives us some excitement and kind of a nice launching pad going into next year after some of the difficult things we had to go through last year. Our focus right now is just head down, do the work.
On the value of cost-controlled rookie deals, vs. potentially being able to use a pick as a trade asset:
Pelinka: The balance is this: on one side we have we feel like one of the best young cores in the league, and to add the fourth pick in the 2019 Draft to that young core certainly makes it more compelling. And then on the other side, we want to do all we can to have an incredibly successful and winning season next year. And I think this tool can be used to enhance the overall talent on our team in a trade as well. I think we’ll look at a number of different things. The front office will be very methodical in our research and will look at everything. And I think around the draft we’ll get clarity, and then of course we’re excited about July 1 and the flexibility we have there. And the promise of free agency this year. Two really exciting events, the draft and free agency, for us to look forward to and plan around.
On the upheaval of the new lottery odds:
Pelinka: I think it’s a significant step forward, and sort of the NBA and Adam Silver’s vision on lottery reform. I think this is going to shake things up a little bit. Last year, 14 picks went in lock step, there were no changes. This year we had extraordinary movement at the top. I think it is going to leave an impact on the league and how teams play down the stretch, and I think it’ll have a positive impact that will keep the league even more competitive, which is our ultimate aim as a league, to just be a highly competitive league.
On if the team is comfortable adding another young player knowing the urgency to win next year:
Pelinka: I think our goal is to have an extraordinary successful and winning season, but I think if you look around the landscape of the league, there are young players that come in in the top five of the Draft and have an immediate impact and do great things, even in the playoffs. We’re going to have to look really, really hard at the candidates we could select there and see if they can have an immediate impact on winning. There is a precedent around the league where young players have (had success). But again, if we can use (the pick) in a trade that solidifies us in a better way, we’ll look at that as well. I think it’s early in the evaluation process, obviously we just were awarded the top pick, so now begins the fun of dissecting all the different options and making those choices.
On the factors of the rookie scale contracts thinking long term:
Pelinka: I think that, listen, when you make decisions there are multiple factors … I do think that rookie contracts are extraordinarily valuable, because usually you’re getting extremely talented players at cost-controlled numbers. So that’s one of many factors we’ll look at when deciding to select a player there or using it as a trade asset. But the way we make decisions as a front office is to look at all the factors. I don’t think there’s any one factor that will control it. We’ll look at everything and make a decision for what’s best to have an extraordinarily successful, winning year next year, because that’s what our fans expect, and that’s what we’re going to deliver to them.
On his role for draft purposes, and if his role has changed at all since the last two drafts:
Pelinka: My role as the GM right now is the same as it was when we selected Lonzo Ball with the second pick, which was our last high pick. My role hasn’t changed since then.