Rob Pelinka

Western Notes: Pelinka, Hetzel, Finley, Brunson, Rockets

Mental toughness is one of the things the Lakers focus on regarding draft prospects, Jovan Buha of the Los Angeles Times writes. They have devised a 90-second shooting drill, among others, to help determine how well players can perform under pressure.

“It’s really a test of, ‘OK, it’s one thing to walk in the gym fresh and move and shoot and be effective. But how are you playing basketball once you’re exhausted, once you’re past your limits?’” president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka said. “Because that’s the fourth quarter. That’s when the game’s on the line. Can you perform at a high level when you’ve spent everything you have? And that’s the mentality that we know Kobe (Bryant) always played with. And so we have drills that test that fortitude.”

The Lakers hold the No. 22 pick, though they might trade it to help improve the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Buha adds.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Steve Hetzel is expected to join Chauncey Billups’ Trail Blazers’ staff, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report tweets. Hetzel had been on the Magic’s staff under former head coach Steve Clifford.
  • Michael Finley is finalizing a new contract with the Mavericks which will give him a larger role in their front office as assistant GM and VP of player personnel under new president of basketball operations Nico Harrison, Marc Stein of Substack tweets. Finley had been Dallas’ VP of basketball operations for the past six seasons.
  • Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, who could become an unrestricted free agent next summer, might be part of any major trade the team makes in the coming days, Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News writes. Brunson, whose $1.82MM salary must be guaranteed on August 1st, is a valuable asset the Mavs could use to reel in a bigger target, Townsend notes.
  • The Rockets have forged a partnership with Credit Karma Money as their new uniform patch sponsor, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. The Rockets played last season without a uniform patch sponsor after the agreement with ROKiT cell phones ended before the 2020 summer restart.

Pacific Notes: Ayton, K. Jones, Lakers, Warriors

Deandre Ayton, fresh off of his first NBA Finals appearance with the Suns, is eligible for a five-year, $168MM max contract that would kick in at the start of the 2022/23 season, and Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic takes a look at what could be next for the big man.

Ayton’s career lows in PPG and APG were a result more of the context of adding Chris Paul and reorganizing the offense, rather than any regression on Ayton’s end, Rankin writes. In fact, Ayton’s growth as a team-first player willing to do whatever it takes for the success of the Suns adds even more appeal for the club as it decides if it will offer him a max deal.

If sacrificing is leading the wins and where we are today, I’ll sacrifice everything, you know what I’m saying,” Ayton said. “Everything (Paul’s) told me has led up to here, so why stop now?

We have more news from the Pacific Division:

Pacific Notes: Booker, Ayton, Lakers, Draft

After falling 123-119 to the Bucks, the Suns find themselves on the brink of losing the 2021 NBA Finals. They have their sights squarely set on a must-win Game 6 on Tuesday. Mark Medina of USA Today opines that the club may be relying too much on the production of 24-year-old All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker.

“We know what Book can do with the ball, but the one thing we talked about was getting to the paint, finding guys on the back side,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said of the ball sticking with Booker. “We feel like that’s a formula.”

Medina contends that the Suns suffered due to their dependence on Booker to bail out possessions with isolation scoring.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Suns center Deandre Ayton – who has thrived during a breakout postseason, his first playoff appearance – welcomes the challenge of a must-win Game 6, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. “I like it. It’s fun; the tables are turned now,” Ayton said. “Now we’re the desperate team. We had our chances of being up and trying to finish the job, now we’re in the same position that they were in. They’re up, and now we got to go get it. That’s why it’s a little bit more fun.” The top pick in the 2018 draft, Ayton is eligible for a contract extension during the 2021 offseason. His recent play should earn him a maximum-salary offer or something close to it.
  • The Lakers, who own the No. 22 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft, hosted 6’5″ Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and 6’4″ Tennessee guard Jaden Springer during their latest pre-draft workouts Saturday, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Both guards are good shooters who could help space the floor for L.A.
  • The Lakers need to land a win-now type of player in the 2021 draft with their No. 22 selection, opines Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. Goon notes that the Lakers front office, under the stewardship of Rob Pelinka, last retained a first-round pick through the draft in 2018, when the club selected center Moritz Wagner out of Michigan — however, Wagner did not last long in L.A., having been sent to Washington in the Anthony Davis blockbuster. The team appears determined to add shooting this offseason — Los Angeles has examined versatile guard prospects and stretch forwards thus far.

Lakers Notes: Pelinka, Schröder, Centers, Kidd

When a defending champion gets knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, it usually means changes are coming, but Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka hopes to keep the core of this year’s team intact, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Injuries played a large role in L.A.’s downfall this season, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis both missing long stretches and being less than 100% for the playoffs.

The Lakers will have eight free agents this summer and possibly nine if Montrezl Harrell turns down a $9.7MM player option. Pelinka indicated that he will try to re-sign most of those players and said the front office is committed to paying the luxury tax to keep the team in title contention.

“I’m convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we’d be a championship-caliber team,” he said. “So the goal is to try to keep that core group together.”

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • At Friday’s exit interviews, Dennis Schröder made it clear that his decision to turn down an $84MM extension during the season wasn’t in retaliation for being part of trade talks involving Kyle Lowry, McMenamin adds. Schröder has expressed a desire to return to the Lakers, but he will see what offers are available in free agency. “I didn’t decline the extension because I was in trade talks,” he said. “I own a (basketball) team in Germany as well. I try to run my organization in Germany as fair as possible, but end of the day, it’s still business. … That’s what Rob did as well. He told me the story. He listened to it. It wasn’t even right by the trade deadline, but he talked to them to see. … I would listen to offers as well. … You don’t know what you can get, and you see what your options are.”
  • Finding a dependable center should be the focus of the Lakers’ offseason, states Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. They installed Andre Drummond as their starter after signing him in March, but he wasn’t used in Thursday’s close-out game. Marc Gasol signed a two-year contract during the offseason, but his role diminished significantly after Drummond was added.
  • With three NBA head coaching jobs now open, Frank Vogel said he believes Jason Kidd deserves another shot, according to Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. The Lakers’ assistant is Damian Lillard‘s first choice to take over the Trail Blazers and may be a candidate for other teams. “Jason has become one of my closest friends, you know, really a trusted advisor on my coaching staff and someone that has just been integral to our success in the last two years,” Vogel said. “He should be at the top of everybody’s list that has an opening in the NBA.” 

Lakers Rumors: Lowry, Schröder, THT, Caruso, Gasol

The Lakers were open to dealing point guard Dennis Schröder and longtime wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for veteran Raptors guard Kyle Lowry ahead of today’s trade deadline, but were resistant to including ascendant shooting guard Talen Horton-Tucker in a deal, according to Jovan Buha and Bill Oram of The Athletic.

Buha and Oram note that Schroder, KCP, and “some draft compensation” were being discussed in exchange for the six-time Toronto All-Star. Los Angeles team president Rob Pelinka apparently balked at including Horton-Tucker, a promising 20-year-old second-year combo guard.

The Lakers continue to negotiate a possible long-term contract extension with starting point guard Schröder, currently earning $15.5MM in the last season of an expiring four-year deal, but remain far apart in those talks. The 27-year-old veteran is hoping to net at least $20MM annually, according to Buha and Oram, who note that this price tag contributed to the front office being open to moving Schröder in a deal for Lowry.

The Lakers’ willingness to trade valuable two-way swingman Caldwell-Pope appear to be about prioritizing re-signing Horton-Tucker and point guard Alex Caruso during the 2021 offseason. A league source tells Buha and Oram that both players could garner deals worth the full mid-level exception, which projects to be worth more than $9.5MM next season.

With Schröder now sticking with LA through the trade deadline, sources tell Buha and Oram that the club hopes to re-sign the point guard this summer, too.

The Lakers currently still have two open roster spots, and are going to use the buyout market to acquire new additions heading into the home stretch of the season. Los Angeles appears to be one of the top finalists in the race to acquire 27-year-old Cavaliers center Andre Drummond, a two-time All-Star, once he finalizes his expected buyout with Cleveland. In addition to a veteran center, Buha and Oram anticipate that the Lakers will seek a defensive-oriented free agent swingman for their other available roster position.

In other Lakers news, starting center Marc Gasol will be back on the court for the injury-depleted club tonight against the Sixers, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times tweets. The veteran big man will only be allowed to play about 15 minutes tonight during his first game action this month, after being placed in the NBA’s coronavirus-related health and safety protocols.

Lakers Notes: Davis, LeBron, Pelinka, More

LeBron James added a few more major achievements to his résumé on Sunday, including his fourth NBA championship and his fourth Finals MVP award. However, as Anthony Slater of The Athletic writes, the Lakers’ playoff run and championship was also a major boon for Anthony Davis‘ reputation.

Within his article, Slater wonders how many players in the NBA a team would rather have on its roster over the next five seasons than Davis. In the wake of his extremely impressive postseason performance, Davis deserves to be mentioned in the NBA’s top tier of current stars, alongside the likes of James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, according to Slater, who adds that AD has a realistic chance to make a run at the title of world’s best player in the coming years.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Will James’ fourth title be his last? He certainly sounds prepared to go after his fifth, telling reporters after Sunday’s win that he’s still “got a lot of years left,” as ESPN relays (via Twitter).
  • An in-depth Ramona Shelburne piece at ESPN.com about Jeanie Buss‘ role in the latest Lakers title includes the following quote from an unnamed senior Lakers executive, which appears to be a shot directed at the Clippers: “While some of our so-called rivals spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars trying to win media cycles, we kept our heads down and focused on basketball — because the only thing we’ve ever cared about winning is championships.”
  • Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today outlines the long road the Lakers took to get to where they are today, starting with their 21-win and 17-win seasons from 2014-16.
  • In his press conference following the Lakers’ win on Sunday, general manager Rob Pelinka recalled the faith that Kobe Bryant expressed in him when he was first hired by the franchise (link via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN). “He said, ‘I’ll give you two, three years, you’ll fix this. You’ll get the Lakers back on top.'” Pelinka said of the late Bryant, whom he represented for two decades as an agent. “I guess you were right, man. You give me the energy to do it.”
  • Earlier today, we passed along Anthony Davis‘ comments on his contract situation.

Lakers Notes: Key Signings, KCP, Pelinka, Davis

Four of the Lakers‘ low-cost signings within the last year have been crucial in helping bring the team to within one win of a championship, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

As Slater details, the combined 2019/20 cap hits for Alex Caruso ($2.75MM), Rajon Rondo ($2.56MM), Markieff Morris ($1.75MM), and Dwight Howard ($1.62MM) total just $8.69MM, but those four players have become extremely important parts of the Lakers’ rotation, especially in the postseason.

Rondo’s return from a broken thumb has helped lessen the need for the Lakers to experiment with backups like Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith, while Morris’ ability to play center in small-ball lineups has come in handy multiple times in the playoffs, particularly against Houston. Howard had his best moments against Denver as a Nikola Jokic irritant, according to Slater, who adds that Caruso has been a steady, reliable contributor through the postseason.

Caruso is under contract for $2.75MM next season as well, but the other three vets will have the opportunity to reach free agency — their strong playoff showings could put them in line for raises.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hasn’t always been a fan favorite in Los Angeles during the last three seasons, but he’s coming up big for the team in the postseason, writes Jordan Greer of Sporting News. Caldwell-Pope, who has knocked down 38.5% of his three-pointers in the playoffs, made some big shots down the stretch in Game 4 to help seal the Lakers’ win. He has a $8.49MM player option for 2020/21.
  • A championship would be vindication for Lakers head of basketball operations Rob Pelinka, who took the reins following Magic Johnson‘s abrupt resignation last spring, then negotiated a trade for Anthony Davis, came up short in his pursuit of Kawhi Leonard, and had to quickly fill out the roster around his stars six days into free agency. Sam Amick of The Athletic has the story on Pelinka’s “let-it-all-out moment” near the end of Game 4.
  • The role of franchise savior never quite fit Anthony Davis in New Orleans, according to Justin Verrier of The Ringer, who writes that the former No. 1 overall pick has been at his best and is reaching his full potential alongside another superstar in LeBron James.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss Talks LeBron, Front Office, AD, More

With the Lakers back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, team owner Jeanie Buss told Sam Amick of The Athletic in a podcast appearance that MVP runner-up LeBron James has played a key role in “bringing this franchise back to where it should be” and that she’s extremely proud of the fact that he plays for the Lakers.

“I hope he plays for many, many more years. But whatever his term is with the Lakers, he has forever left his mark on this team and this organization and on me,” Buss said of LeBron. “He is somebody that I treasure, and I will protect. I have just enjoyed watching him play and nurture along his teammates and bring out the best in them. He really is the most unique person in the league today.”

Buss’ lengthy conversation with The Athletic touched on several more topics, including some past dysfunction in the Lakers’ front office, the team’s hiring of Frank Vogel in the spring of 2019, the trade for Anthony Davis, and much more.

The discussion is worth checking out in full, but here are a few more highlights from Buss, via Amick:

On prior front office dysfunction and how the Lakers addressed it:

“There were too many voices (in the room), too many leaks, too many people talking and not being on the same page. And so we took the offseason to shore those things up. We like to collaborate together, to be on the same page. It doesn’t mean just a bunch of people agreeing for the sake of agreeing. We like to hash things out, debate, just work through. So yes, the people that I rely on, that I trust — Rob (Pelinka) leading our front office, Kurt Rambis being an adviser, Linda Rambis who I’ve worked with for over 30 years. These are the people that I trust, and then bringing on a coaching staff that reflected those beliefs and that level of collaboration.”

On the scrutiny the Lakers faced following Magic Johnson’s surprise resignation last spring:

“We knew that when Magic stepped down from his position with the Lakers that — (and) while I’m still not exactly clear why (he stepped down), and why it had to be that day — we knew that the outside world would be questioning everything that we were doing and that we just kind of had to let it roll off our backs and just do the work. And we knew that that takes time.

On the acquisition of Anthony Davis:

“It was difficult. I think, probably for me, the hardest thing in this business is trading away players. … (But) it was really the right thing for us to do, because when you have somebody like LeBron James, and where he is in his career, you’ve got to go all in.”

On the Lakers filling out the rest of their roster in 2019’s free agent period:

“(It) was a little odd just because decisions were being, you know, kind of stretched long. But I think we recovered well from the delay. And you know, the roster that Rob Pelinka put together, really you’re now seeing what the vision was, because it is a versatile team that can go big, can go small, and that doesn’t really show until you’re in the playoffs. Well, we hadn’t been in the playoffs for so long it was really hard to see what the vision was and where we were going. But now that we’re in the playoffs, you can see how the versatility of the lineups (works). And that’s really a testament to our front office being led by Rob Pelinka.”

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Pelinka, Bryant, Green

In a conference call today with reporters, LeBron James said he has been training four or five times each day during the shutdown and shooting with his children on his outdoor court, tweets Mark Medina of USA Today. James also addressed the wait for the league to start playing again, saying he understands that the health of safety of everyone involved comes first, but he’s strongly hoping the season can be completed (Twitter link).

“I don’t think I’ll be able to have any closure if we’re not able to finish the season,” he said.

James referred to the pandemic as “a roadblock for all of us” and “a test,” adds Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum Sportsnet (Twitter link). With the Lakers holding the West’s best record, they have extra motivation to resume the season, but James said he hasn’t spoken directly to commissioner Adam Silver about the situation.

“(In a perfect world), it would be with fans in the stands,” James said. “It just makes the game that much better.” (Twitter link).

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • General manager Rob Pelinka takes inspiration from Kobe Bryant while dealing with the pandemic and its effects on the team, writes Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register“He would always say that the trials of life are kind of when greatness is forged,” Pelinka said today during a Zoom call with reporters. “If you were on a knight’s journey with him and a huge fire-breathing dragon ended up in the pathway ahead, he would say, ‘OK, this is why this is good right now. We’re going to meet this challenge and here’s how we’re going to get around it and here’s how we’re going to defeat it.’ That was just his nature, that obstacles or hard times would lead somehow to growth, and I think that’s the way I’m going to look at 2020.”
  • The Lakers are also using Zoom, a videoconferencing service, to allow their players to work out together even though they can’t be in the same place, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. The strength and conditioning staff delivers fitness equipment to the players for workout sessions. “These guys just have a great chemistry of being together,” Pelinka said. “So they’ve tried to stay as connected as possible in the ways they can, working out together virtually.”
  • Danny Green said on his recent podcast that players will use “any means necessary … to try and salvage the season,” relays Scott Polacek of Bleacher Report“Right now we’re fighting,” Green said. “Most guys think that for sure we’re going to have a season, it’s just going to start later than we expected, and just trying to get the next season to be pushed back is not going to be as easy as people think it’s going to be.”

Lakers Notes: Waiters, Smith, Davis, James

Shooting guard Dion Waiters had an impressive showing in his workout with the Lakers on Monday, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. Waiters also met with coach Frank Vogel and front office executives Rob Pelinka and Kurt Rambis.

Waiters has had a trouble-filled season which included three team-imposed suspensions with the Heat. He was traded to the Grizzlies and then waived. A report surfaced last week that the Lakers would give Waiters a look. The Lakers opened up a roster spot on Sunday by waiving guard Troy Daniels.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • The team also brought in another veteran shooting guard, J.R. Smith, for a workout on Monday, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times reports. Smith had a casual conversation with Pelinka and Vogel after his workout. The team might look at more free agents and is in no hurry to fill the roster opening, Ganguli adds. Smith hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since November 2018.
  • The Anthony Davis blockbuster trade with New Orleans has turned into a a win-win situation, Andrew Lopez of ESPN notes. Davis has turned the Lakers into serious contenders for the title this season, while the Pelicans’ rebuild has been accelerated with the additions of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, along with the multiple draft picks they acquired. Ingram will be a restricted free agent this offseason, while Ball and Hart will be eligible for extensions.
  • LeBron James offered high praise for the league’s top rookies after defeating both of their squads, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register relays. James led Los Angeles to wins over Memphis and Ja Morant and a pair of victories over New Orleans and Zion Williamson“It’s a hell of a rookie class, I’ll tell you that,” James said. “These kids are special.”