Alex Perl | June 21st, 2019
Sports agents broker contracts, handle the business and legal aspects of athletes careers. Despite their wide array of work, one position you would never expect a sports agent to obtain is that of a General Manager of a sports franchise. Although this may sound far-fetched, this is indeed the life of Robert Todd Pelinka Jr.
Sports agent turned general manager, it’s not something the sports world is used to, but then again not every franchise is run like the Los Angeles Lakers. Pelinka represented a vast client list of NBA stars over his career, but his main star client was none other then Laker star Kobe Bryant. Now to understand the value Bryant has had to the Laker franchise as well as the city of Los Angeles, cannot be understated enough. Basically, he was the favorite son who always found a way to win, to bring championships and glory to Los Angeles, he could do no wrong, even when his flaws were on display for the world to see. But I digress, this is another story for another day, Pelinka represented the golden child of the Laker glory days. Which in turn explains how he got the job in the first place. When you discuss the old motto of “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, Pelinka is the walking, talking embodiment of this quote.
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most successful franchises in sports history. Their 16 championships are second in NBA history. Although in recent times the success of the past has not translated to the present. The Lakers have not been to the postseason in 6 years, which is also the length since legendary owner Jerry Buss passed away. Since then, the Lakers have been run and run rather unwell by his children, with daughter Jeanie Buss now being in charge as the Lakers president. With years and years of failure, in 2017 this is when everything changed or was supposed to. Now hired to be President of Basketball Operations was none other then Laker legend Magic Johnson, and his new right-hand man would be none other than Rob Pelinka, in his first job as a general manager. Questions arose immediately about the credentials and experience of Pelinka, but the optimists tried to quiet all the chatter and negativity thrown his way, because why? Well, he worked with Kobe!
The first year in charge saw an exodus of players leaving town. The Lakers were trying to change the culture of their losing ways, and Johnson and Pelinka were spearheading this movement. Gone was D’Angelo Russell, the former 2nd pick in 2015, in his place the team would draft Point guard Lonzo Ball, who was more known for his father’s outbursts on television than his game. Also gone would be fan favorites Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, which was more of a salary dump then receiving much in return. The Lakers had gone young, With a core of another 2016 2nd pick Brandon Ingram, as well as 2014 lottery pick Julius Randle, it seemed the young lakers were possibly on to something. With another losing season, Pelinka and the Lakers were optimistic that possibly in the off-season they could actually lure better and more veteran talent to the young team.
Now enter 2018, July 1st, 2018 to be exact. The Lakers had snagged Lebron James, one of the greatest players of this generation. One could even say, the Kobe Bryant of his generation. James had signed a 4 year, $154 million deal with the lakers. Sure he would be turning 34 during the upcoming season, but it was Lebron James. After years of failure to bring in stars to Los Angeles, it seemed the tide had turned. Magic and Pelinka were the talk of the town and the world. They had somehow convinced Lebron James of all people to join the Lakers. Along the way, the Lakers would fill out the roster, by letting go of Randle, as well as adding a bevy of veteran free agents such as Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson to join Lebron. Despite not having very much shooting around Lebron, the excitement that “The King” had arrived was all that seemed to matter. 2018 was going to be the change the franchise had been hoping for, and now Pelinka’s doubters seemed to be silenced for the time being.
The Lakers started the season slowly but by Christmas, they had managed to be positioned firmly in the playoff hunt. Even embarrassing the defending champion Golden State Warriors, with all of the excitement in the win, one thing that seemed to slide under the rug was that the king had gone down. Lebron had injured his groin during the game, the iron man of the NBA was now injured and it was no slight injury, he would miss time. Was this the start of the collapse? Whose to say, but from here the avalanche of drama would unfold.
The Lakers would go on a collapse that would not only shock the fan base but even the team themselves, with injury after injury and chemistry issues ongoing, the Lakers were on a fading and fading fast path. Even with the return of Lebron, the losing continued, and fans and media pundits alike were calling for the firing of Rob Pelinka. The calamity of losing had basically the whole team under fire. Head coach Luke Walton was on the hot seat apparently, as well as Pelinka. Keeping his calm demeanor, Pelinka was not saying much about the loosing and issues going on with the Lakers. Rumors were going around the league that there was a power struggle between Magic and Pelinka, the locker room was divided and ownership was not pleased with the results, in which high expectations had been placed.
To make matters even stranger, star forward Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans was now demanding a trade. The All-Star forward had enough of the losing ways and misdirection of the Pelicans and was now demanding a trade. One of the destinations he wanted to be traded was indeed the Lakers. It was later leaked that the Lakers had basically offered nearly every valuable asset on the team not named Lebron James, and a bevy of draft picks. The leak embarrassed the already disgraced franchise as well as Pelinka, and even more embarrassing when the trade deadline passed and Davis was still a pelican. With the 2018-2019 season coming to an end, the Lakers had failed to make the playoffs and changes were now needing to be made.
With the season ending, the first bombshell had dropped, Magic Johnson abruptly quit on national television, citing he “wanted to go back to having fun.” With the NBA playoffs now upon us, also upon us was the drama of the Los Angeles franchise, Walton had been fired, the trade rumors for Davis started to grow ever stronger, but one thing remained despite the heavy fire of criticism, the position of Pelinka seemed secure. In the next coming month, Magic Johnson would go on a now infamous rant on ESPN. Accusing ownership of not listening to his ideas, not giving him enough of a say and to make matters even worse, accusing Pelinka of plotting to steal his job. He even went as far to state that “backstabbing” from Pelinka was one of the reasons for his resignation. Once again Pelinka was coy on the matter and nothing was heard from his side. Was he shuddering in fear for his job? Were the rumors of his “backstabbing” true? Whose to say, one thing that is for certain is that Pelinka got to work.
Just two days after the 2019 Finals had ended, and the back to back defending champion warriors were dethroned, the biggest news was now coming out of Los Angeles. Pelinka had indeed pulled off a move Magic could not, he had traded for Anthony Davis, gone was Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and draft picks. Now Lebron had the second star he needed to hopefully bring back the fledgling franchise. With the deal still being ironed out at the moment, the Lakers are possibly in talks to sign another max free agent star. Whether its Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, etc. the time has now come for Pelinka to shine or fall through the cracks. With a newly hired coaching staff and a soon to be revamped roster, as well as no more Magic, the former agent has the floor. With this being said, the future success of the Lakers is now in his hands.
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