The Lakers failed to put the right pieces around LeBron James during year one of The King’s reign in Los Angeles. Despite the disappointment, owner Jeanie Buss still has complete faith in both team president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka, a source close to the situation tells Bill Oram of The Athletic.
The two executives have had their share of missteps during their time with the team. For instance, as Oram details, when the Lakers signed James, neither Pelinka or Johnson put in the kind of research that rival organizations typically do when landing a top star.
When the Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving, the team made calls to former coaches and those around him in pursuit of intel on the point guard. Had the Lakers put in that type of work, they may have known, for example, that LBJ playing off the ball wasn’t going to be something they should plan around even if the four-time MVP had signed off on the strategy during July 2018 discussions.
The team will chase stars like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson this summer, though the Lakers don’t appear to be atop any of those players’ lists, per Oram’s piece, which Shams Charania, Joe Vardon, Sam Amick, and Frank Isola also contributed to.
The thinking process may be shifting behind the scenes in Los Angeles as a result of the lack of interest in the Lakers. “You don’t need names, you need games,” a source close to James tells Oram. That differs from Johnson declaring last year that this summer would bring another superstar.
Regardless of which players the Lakers roster, Luke Walton is unlikely to coach them. Johnson clashed with Walton throughout the season with tension rising during an early-season meeting. Oram writes that Johnson delivered Walton with a “closed-door tongue lashing.” From that point on, Walton had reason to be concerned about his job security.
According to Isola, the Lakers reached out to former Bucks coach Jason Kidd during the season. However, a high-ranking official within the organization refutes the claim.
Oram shares more details from a lost season in the extensive piece, which is worth a read on its own. Here are some more of the highlights:
- Kyle Kuzma was told prior to his trip to Charlotte for All-Star weekend that he would be a key part of the Lakers and that unless the team was acquiring one of the league’s best three players, it wasn’t trading him. Pelinka delivered a similar message to Larry Nance Jr. prior to the deadline last season. According to Oram’s source, Pelinka reassured Nance of the team’s plan for him and told the big man to buy the house he was pursuing in Los Angeles — Nance luckily was unable to complete all the necessary steps to buying the home before the team traded him to Cleveland.
- Some within Walton’s circle felt that agent Rich Paul was attempting to use the Anthony Davis saga to get the team to fire Walton. If the team acquired Davis, the franchise would need a more decorated coach. However, the Lakers heard through back channels that Davis liked Walton and that bought the coach more time.
- Members of the Lakers’ coaching staff had hoped that management would bring back the Julius Randle–Brook Lopez pairing last offseason. The team allowed both to walk in free agency. Sources tell Oram that Walton and his staff were not consulted about potential free agent targets last year until late in the process.
- Oram writes that Johnson is seen as an “absentee executive,” as evidenced by Johnson’s lack of response when LaVar Ball made allegations that Walton was losing control of the locker room last season. Johnson was in Hawaii at the time and didn’t publicly back his coach.
- Pelinka has been active in his involvement with the Lakers. He’s hands-on with scouting and coaches’ meetings, though his level of micromanagement has drawn criticism.
- Johnson caught the attention of James for his comments during an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio. Johnson said the team needed to get the ball out of James’ hands because otherwise, the situation would be “Cleveland all over again and we don’t want that.” LBJ publicly said he wasn’t sure what Johnson meant.