After missing out on Kawhi Leonard, Rob Pelinka believes the Los Angeles Lakers moved forward by putting together a versatile roster that addressed personnel mistakes made from a year ago.
The general manager spoke on Friday about the Lakers adjusting quickly after Leonard’s decision to join the LA Clippers and learning from last summer’s ill-fated decision to add ball-handling playmakers while sacrificing shooting.
“I really haven’t spent a lot of time either thinking about or characterizing that,” Pelinka said in a conference call on how close the Lakers were in the Leonard hunt with the Clippers and Toronto Raptors. “Because once the decision was made, we had all of our chess pieces on the board to make our moves and close. And at that point you just don’t look back. I think of course when superstars are available, you put your best foot forward.”
After waiting the first week of free agency for Leonard and seeing some other secondary targets come off the board, the Lakers moved quickly once Leonard made his decision and added or brought back the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels.
Pelinka says that with LeBron James’ and Anthony Davis’ approval, the Lakers assembled a veteran roster that addressed critical areas such as shooting, perimeter defense, basketball IQ and character in free agency.
“I think the conversations we have with our players, we want to keep those private just because they are important,” Pelinka said. “But anytime as a general manager when you have superstars on your team, especially guys that have the basketball IQ and just the understanding of the game that Anthony Davis and LeBron have, of course, you are going to be tapping into them as partners.
“We view our relationships here with our star players here as partnerships. I know both Anthony and LeBron are excited about the 14 guys and how we are going to come together and their input, both of their input, Anthony and LeBron, has been incredibly valuable to me.”
And even though the Lakers missed out on Leonard, Pelinka said the team has cap space to pursue another max free agent in the summer of 2021 and that he continues to learn from mistakes made in the past like last summer.
“I think the greatest teacher in life for all of us is experience,” Pelinka said. “And I think that to be great at anything, you have to learn from the past. I think we took a lot of what happened last year into account in kind of shaping this roster and shaping our goals for the season. The North star for us was just we wanted to add more shooting. We wanted to have perimeter defenders, high-IQ players, guys with high character, and then a versatile lineup.”
“… You always have to learn, and evolve and adapt as a leader from the past,” Pelinka added. “For us, anything short of a championship is not success. So we have to learn from last season, because we didn’t win a championship. And a lot of that went into the construction of the roster this year.”
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Early in the process of going after Leonard, former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that Leonard’s camp wanted to meet with him and controlling owner Jeanie Buss. The NBA, though, would not allow Johnson to be a part of any official free agent meetings.
With the Clippers remaining quiet during free agency and ultimately landing Leonard, Pelinka was asked if Johnson may have hurt the Lakers’ chances with the top free agent available. The Lakers general manager was complimentary of Johnson, who stepped down from his president role and later accused Pelinka of back-stabbing him.
“I can say this, we’re incredibly grateful of just kind of his supportive messages,” Pelinka said. “We know he’s pulling for the Lakers, he’s made that very clear. And we’ve just appreciated the support he’s shown from the outside. As you guys know there are certain league-mandated rules that we have to follow around, but he’s been nothing but supportive and excited about the roster and the team and the players that we have.”
Since Johnson stepped down on April 9, Pelinka has found himself taking plenty of heat at times, from Johnson’s accusation of betrayal during their time together to having his credibility put under a harsh spotlight in an ESPN story by Baxter Holmes examining the Lakers’ organization over the past two years.
“I think what we owe to the fans here is that our time here is not responding to critics or criticism,” Pelinka said. “But my time here has to be focused on building the Lakers team. If I focus time on responding to individual criticism, any minute or five minutes of time I spend on that is a minute or five minutes of time away from building the team and putting this team in a position to win championships. That’s been my focus, has just been in the work, really not responding to the critics.”