For as much as the Los Angeles Lakers front office has been loathed by both fans and pundits alike over the last few years, nobody saw it ending quite like this.
As if she were Ari Gold with a paintball gun, Jeanie Buss cleaned house, stripping her brother of his title as executive vice president of basketball operations while parting ways with longtime GM Mitch Kupchak and revered PR man John Black.
To combat the losses, Buss has turned to the sweet smile of Magic Johnson to head basketball operations, and he will bring on super agent Rob Pelinka as his GM.
Much of the focus is going to be on Johnson because of his storied career as player turned business aficionado, but the bigger coup for the Lakers’ future could be the nabbing of Pelinka from the agency world.
Pelinka was most notably the agent of Kobe Bryant, and now boasts a robust client list that includes James Harden, providing him ample perspective when it comes to recruiting and catering to superstar talents.
Los Angeles has tripped over themselves time and time again during the free agency game, and much of the motivation for these hires is to bring back some gusto to the franchise’s image.
Pelinka’s hiring furthers the development of agents leaving their post to take their stab at running an NBA franchise. Bob Myers is the most recent (and perhaps the most successful) example, leaving the agency business to spearhead a juggernaut in Golden State. The Lakers — reportedly interested in Myers at one point in time — will look to strike similar returns with Pelinka.
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Naysayers will poo poo the elevation of Johnson, claiming that he may not have the time to dedicate to what has essentially turned into a 24/7 job because of the scouting demands, communication obligations, and day-to-day housekeeping that is necessary to succeed at the highest level.
My guess would be that Magic knows what he is getting himself into, and his proactive spirit was showcased from the get-go when he bargained a deal with Daryl Morey to send guard Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and the Rockets’ first-round pick. There will be a learning curve, but there are few things that Johnson has tried his hand at and failed.
Well … except for Twitter.
Watching the @lakers vs. Pistons game and Julius Randle made a beautiful finish with his right hand!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) February 9, 2017
But make no mistake: This shift of leadership is about leveraging the Lakers’ brand into recruiting superstar players during the summer. Will it play out that way? Only time will tell, and league observers will be watching closely to see if this power play brings on-court returns, or merely psychic income from a starving fan base that idolizes Johnson.
Having Johnson as the face of your organization will undoubtedly get you into the room with a superstar free agent, but the league’s new CBA was constructed to restrict the desire of a star player leaving his respective home market. Magic is going to have to pull some strings to compensate for the financial advantage a free agent will have by staying put.
Either way, change was needed in Los Angeles, and the duo of Johnson and Pelinka at the very least gives them a fighter’s chance to ascend their way back to being an elite franchise.