How Pelinka Can Redeem Himself and Get Lakers’ Organization Back in Sync
It’s only taken a year and a half for the Lakers to go from champs to chumps, from winning a dominating championship in the bubble to losing in the first round last year and possibly missing playoffs completely this year.
The Lakers lost their way by forgetting who they were and throwing away what won their championship in the bubble. Rob cracked and traded for Russ, ownership suddenly got cheap, and Vogel got a roster that exposed his flaws. Everyone in the Lakers’ organization shares the blame for where the Lakers are right now, will have to be held accountable, and will need to participate in any solution to get the organization in sync and everybody on the same page.
The front office executive who will get the opportunity to fix the Lakers’ roster problem this summer will be the same Rob Pelinka who was responsible for the problems in the first place by agreeing to the trade for Russell Westbrook. You can blame LeBron and AD but it’s Rob who is paid big bucks to make those tough decisions like should we trade for Russell Westbrook, should we re-sign Alex Caruso, should we promise Andre Drummond a starting role?
Bottom line, here are the six steps Rob Pelinka must take as head of basketball operations to get everybody in the Lakers’ organization in sync and on the same page and fix the roster problems caused by the Russell Westbrook trade.
1. Accept Responsibility for the Lakers’ Current Mess
The first thing Rob Pelinka needs to do is accept responsibility for the Russell Westbrook trade. That LeBron and AD wanted Russ and pushed for the trade doesn’t matter. The final decision was Rob’s and it was clearly a poor decision.
Accepting responsibility for the Westbrook trade would clear the decks for everybody to stop assessing blame and instead allow ownership, front office, and coaching to work together to develop their game plan for this summer. Most importantly, it would show that Rob is the man in charge and will be the one making the final decision this summer when it comes to terminating the Westbrook experiment and upgrading the roster to championship level.
The Lakers are at a major crossroads. They still have two superstars and could rebuild and come back as a legitimate contender next season…or they could continue to make the wrong moves and fumble the LeBron James transition. Rob Pelinka needs to create a overall vision for how to get the best out of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and next year’s Lakers just like Jerry Buss did for the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Showtime Lakers.
Rob has an opportunity to redeem himself as the Lakers general manager and fix the problems caused by the Westbrook trade, and get the Lakers back to winning. The first step is accepting responsibility for the team’s current mess.
2. Convince Jeanie Buss to Open Lakers’ Purse Strings
Once Rob has accepted responsibility for the Lakers’ current mess, he needs to sit down with Jeanie Buss and convince her that paying luxury taxes has now become just the basic price of admission to compete for NBA championships.
With a market value of $5.5 billion, the Los Angeles Lakers will likely end up paying just $3 million in luxury taxes, 11th lowest amount among tax payers and considerably less than the $60 million due from top taxpayer Warriors. Jeanie Buss’ unwillingness to pay luxury taxes ended up costing the Lakers one of their best defensive players when they refused to match an offer Alex Caruso received from the Chicago Bulls because of potential luxury taxes.
What Rob Pelinka needs to do is convince Jeanie Buss and her brothers and sister that winning championships is what has made the franchise worth over $5.5 billion today and that the Lakers need to spend money to make money. The Lakers need to be willing to pay the same level of luxury taxes as their major competitors: the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers. You can’t lose quality players like Alex Caruso due to tax concerns.
The ability to compete financially is a fundamental requirement if the Lakers are to be able to compete on the hardwood. Pelinka needs to convince Jeanie Buss that paying luxury taxes is just an investment on future championships.
3. Recruit Quin Snyder as the Lakers Next Head Coach
The biggest challenge Rob Pelinka will have this summer will be replace Frank Vogel as head coach. Before he can do that, he needs to decide what kind of coach the Lakers need to best optimize LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The head coach candidate Rob Pelinka should pursue this summer is Quin Snyder, current head coach of the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have new ownership and word is the new ownership may want a new head coach after eight years. Snyder is a former Lakers assistant coach who possesses the same defensive DNA as Frank Vogel but has fully embraced the 3-point revolution that’s taken over the NBA, which is what the Lakers need to complement LeBron and AD
Defensively, Quin Snyder favors a two-bigs defense anchored by an elite shot blocker like Rudy Gobert, which is style similar to Frank Vogel’s defense. Quin’s Jazz defense was 3rd in the league last season but just 13th this season. Offensively, Quin Snyder has the Jazz taking and making the second most 3-point shots in the league this season, after leading the league in both last season. Quin is Mike D’Antoni on offense and Frank Vogel on defense.
Rob Pelinka and the Lakers should go all-in to sign Quin Snyder as their next head coach. He has the high-level championship experience both as a player and coach and the X’s and O’s chops superstars James and Davis will respect.
4. Rebuild the Partnership with Rich Paul and Klutch Sports
Once Pelinka has signed Snyder to replace Vogel as the Lakers next head coach, he needs to turn his attention to repairing and rebuilding his alliance with Klutch Sports and getting LeBron James to sign a two-year extension.
While James won’t be eligible to sign an extension until August 4th, Pelinka needs his verbal approval once the season ends so he can move forward with surrounding LeBron and AD with a championship roster when summer starts. Were James unwilling to sign an extension, the Lakers might then be forced to consider trading him in order not to lose him to free agency this summer without getting anything in return. James signing an extension is critical.
The extension James will likely approve would be for two years with a player option for the second year, which would then line up LeBron and AD so their last guaranteed seasons would be 2023–24 with player options for 2024–25. That would then set the Lakers up with maximum cap space and no players under contract for the 2024–25 season, giving them the flexibility to re-sign superstars James and Davis or look for a superstar to replace LeBron James.
Strengthening the alliance with Klutch Sports should be apriority for Pelinka. It not only solidifies the Lakers’ relationship with LeBron and AD but also opens the door for the Lakers to acquire another Klutch Sports superstar.
5. Trade Russell Westbrook to Rockets for John Wall
Once Rob has accepted responsibility for the Lakers’ mess, convinced Jeanie to loosen the purse strings, hired Quin Snyder as the next head coach, and rebuilt the alliance with Klutch Sports, he’s now ready to wheel and deal.
Finding a new home for Russell Westbrook will be Rob Pelinka’s first roster priority and undoubtedly the greatest challenge he will face this summer. The Lakers refused to give up a first round pick to move Russ at the trade deadline. While the Lakers will be hoping to find a trading partner willing to take on Russ’ $47 million expiring contract, their best option could very well be to trade Westbrook and a first round draft pick to the Rockets for John Wall.
The Lakers are not interested in waiving and stretching Russell Westbrook. While Rob will try to find a team willing to trade the valuable players with multiple year contracts in return for Russ, the Lakers may still strike out. There’s also no question that replacing Westbrook with Wall will be ‘addition by subtraction’ since Wall can at least be counted on to play under control and not create the chaotic rollercoaster ride Russ inevitably turns games into.
The first roster move Rob Pelinka has to make this summer is trading Russell Westbrook. Rob should be willing to give up one of the Lakers’ two first round picks to get a team to take Russell Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract.
6. Trade THT, Nunn, and Pick for Stretch Five Center
The Lakers are at a critical crossroads where the decisions they make this summer will not only impact next season but could also affect the transition of the team once LeBron James retires and the success of post-LeBron future.
The last three years, the Lakers alternated between two-bigs lineups with traditional low post centers like JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard and small-ball-on-steroids lineups with Anthony Davis or LeBron James as stretch fives. Considering how the Lakers’ size challenged lineups have been getting killed in the paint and on the boards and the persistent injuries to James and Davis, the Lakers should seriously consider returning to the two-bigs formula.
Rather than bringing in another traditional low post center, the Lakers should look to for a center with the size to protect the rim, the bulk to handle power centers like Embiid and Jokic, and the shooting stroke to stretch defenses. Adding a modern center like Christian Wood or Myles Turner would enable the Lakers to be able to play big or small. It would also give them the ability to have an elite shot blocker on the court for all 48 minutes of the game.
Considering the injuries that have derailed this and last season’s teams, the Lakers might want to rethink their front court and look to trade for a modern stretch five center who can both protect the rim and stretch defenses.
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