How Rob Pelinka Can Redeem Himself
Pelinka must build a Lakers’ vision that fully embraces analytics with a front office, coaching staff, and players who are all in sync
While I’m not a Rob Pelinka fan and found the negative reports about him to be credible, it’s time to face reality as owner Jeanie Buss has clearly chosen Rob Pelinka over Magic Johnson as the future face of the Lakers’ front office.
Rather than continuing to rant and rave over why that was a poor decision, it’s time to focus instead on how Rob Pelinka can redeem himself and chart a course to eliminate the dysfunction that’s plagued the Lakers’ organization. That starts by creating a modern vision for the Lakers that embraces analytics and three-point shooting and building a cohesive front office, coaching staff, and team roster that supports and works in concern to implement the vision.
While that may seem like a hopeless dream, Pelinka deserves the opportunity to pursue his own vision. There’s likely little doubt the major moves made by the Lakers during the last two years were at the direction of Magic Johnson. With Magic out of the picture, Rob will hopefully take full advantage of the chance to chart his own course and look to modernize the Lakers approach to the game and build an organization where everybody is on the same page.
One of the first organizational changes the Lakers need to make is to resolve any unanswered questions as to who is in charge of the front office and find an executive to provide the hands on front office experience Pelinka lacks. The simple way to accomplish this would be to promote Pelinka to president of basketball operations and recruit a proven experienced assistant general manager from another team to replace him as the Lakers’ general manager.
Another option that makes sense organizationally would be to promote the Lakers’ current assistant general manager and director of scouting Jesse Buss to general manager. Jesse has done an outstanding job managing the Lakers’ drafts the last few years and promoting him to general manager would be a natural move. He obviously has great judgment when it comes to personnel and deserves the chance to be groomed for more front office responsibility.
Meanwhile, Ryan West has also done an outstanding job as director of player personnel and been integral in the success the Lakers have had in the draft. Promoting Ryan to replace Jesse Buss as assistant general manager would be another natural move that would bolster the Lakers’ front office and motivate Ryan to remain with the Lakers. These moves kindle the possibility down the road that the Lakers front office might once again be run by a Buss/West duo.
Finally, Rob Pelinka needs to build a legitimate, full fledged, top flight Lakers’ analytics department headed by a proven, experienced analytics director and fully integrated with and utilized by the team’s front office and coaching staff. There’s no question that Magic Johnson was not enamored by analytics and there were rumors that he resisted efforts by Pelinka and others to embrace analytics and bring the front office and coaching staff into the modern age.
Rob Pelinka’s most pressing challenge is to hire a new head coach to replace Luke Walton, who was fired and since has been hired by the Kings. The major complaints about Walton as head coach were his unwillingness to make changes to what was perceived as a weak coaching staff and his failure to design and implement a modern offense with proper spacing principles and play design. Rob Pelinka will have to address both issues with his new hire.
So far, the Lakers have plans to interview three head coaching candidates: former Cavaliers’ head coach Tyronn Lue, former Pelicans’ head coach and current Sixers’ assistant coach Monty Williams, and current Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard. Hopefully, Pelinka will add additional names to this list as his search progresses. Three candidates I’d love to see added would be Spurs’ assistant coaches Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka, and Becky Hammon.
Hiring Hammon would certainly be an out-of-the-box move by Pelinka but her ability and qualifications to be an elite NBA coach are unquestionable. Greg Popovich is obviously grooming her to replace him as head coach of the Spurs when he retires and asking permission to interview her might even push Pops to accelerate his retirement schedule. But Becky’s a fiery, smart, and demanding coach who’s learned from the best and has great upside.
Regardless of whom Pelinka decides to hire as the Lakers’ new head coach, Rob needs to make sure his or her coaching staff includes an elite associate head coach and shooting coach, two important pieces missing on Walton’s staff. Paying head coach salary to recruit an elite associate head coach should be a top priority as should recruiting a proven shooting coach, like the Mavs’ Jamahl Mosley, who fixed DeAndre Jordan’s problems shooting free throws.
Of the three head candidates Pelinka is scheduled to interview, Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard may be the best prospect. While he doesn’t have the head coach experience Lue or Williams has, he’s worked under Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra and has been coordinator of the Heat’s top-ten defense. The Lakers should consider hiring Juwan Howard and pairing him with a proven offensive orient guru like the Spurs’ Ettore Messina as associate head coach.
Regardless or whom Pelinka hires as the Lakers’ head coach and associate head coach, it’s critical that both fully embrace analytics and three-point shooting. One of the areas of dysfunction on the Lakers was the disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff. It’s crucial that Pelinka puts together a coaching staff that’s on the same page as his front office, unlike the Lakers where the front office often ignored any input from the coaching staff.
No matter how good the front office and coaching staff are, winning and losing comes down to the players and Rob Pelinka will rightly be judged by the quality of roster he assembles for next year via free agency and trade.
Besides untimely major injuries to LeBron and their young stars, the Lakers big shortcoming last year was their lack of consistent three-point shooting. With a bevy of tradeable young assets, a lottery pick, and $38 million in cap space for free agency this summer, Rob Pelinka will have the opportunity to fix the Lakers three-point shooting woes. To do that, he’ll need to sign, draft, or trade for the right players to surround LeBron James with elite shooters.
It’s uncertain how Magic Johnson’s resignation will effect the Lakers chances of signing a superstar free agent like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, or Kemba Walker this summer. Recent rumors say Kawhi and Kyrie as well as Jimmy Butler may be in play for Lakers this summer. Pursuing Kemba Walker and Brook Lopez could be the smartest move as they’re the best solution to the Lakers’ three-point shooting woes.
On the other hand, other rumors confirm that Anthony Davis is still set on signing with the Lakers in free agency next summer provided the Pelicans don’t trade him to the Lakers. While waiting to sign Paul George didn’t work out and waiting for Kawhi Leonard is still up in the air, signing a few elite shooters like Danny Green and Brook Lopez to exorbitant 1-year deals to save cap space for Anthony Davis might not be a bad backup plan this summer.
Rob Pelinka was basically shut out from being involved in the Lakers earlier Anthony Davis trade talks with the Pelicans at their request. But with David Griffin now running the show for New Orleans, Pelinka may have a chance to resurrect a deal for AD. For sure, Davis’ recent comments that he will sign with the Lakers as a free agent next summer if he’s traded anywhere but to the Lakers could prevent teams from matching or beating the Lakers offer, which could likely include Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, Hart, and this year’s pick.
In a perfect world, Rob Pelinka would pull of the above trade for AD and then use the $38 million for a third superstar or to surround LeBron with shooters. Accomplishing that would surely go a long way towards redeeming his image.