When the Los Angeles Lakers signed LeBron James to a four-year contract, it earned the front office tandem of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka heaps of praise. James’ arrival capped off multiple years of strategic planning and immediately vaulted the franchise back into prominence.
However the excitement surrounding the team collapsed less than one year later. James and other key members of the roster suffered an injury, which derailed the season. It ended with Johnson abruptly resigning as president of basketball operations and offering sharp criticism of Pelinka.
A complicated coaching search that saw negotiations fall apart with Tyronn Lue resulted in Pelinka and the Lakers regime facing more scrutiny. Accusations of incompetence have been lobbed at the organization, which James emphatically pushed back against.
“First of all, I think Rob, Kurt, Linda, Jeanie, and everybody upstairs did a hell of a job this summer,” he said at Lakers Media Day.
“From acquiring A.D. to acquiring everyone that is a part of this team, to bringing back guys who were free agents last year, bringing them back to the roster, they did a hell of a job. And bringing in the coaching staff, handpicking the coaching staff like they did.
“Throughout all of the bull that was narrated for our franchise and going towards Rob and the beautiful people that we have upstairs, they just kept their blinders on and focused on what they had to do to help this franchise be as competitive as they can be.”
The Lakers’ biggest splash of the summer was to complete a trade for Anthony Davis, which had long been speculated about. They pursued Kawhi Leonard in free agency and were believed by some to be among the finalists for the reigning NBA Finals MVP.
When Leonard opted to sign with the L.A. Clippers, the Lakers quickly pivoted to fill their roster with complementary pieces around James and Davis. Both All-Stars were heavily involved in that process.
While the roster could ultimately serve as some exoneration for Pelinka, that’s not where his focus lies. “I think our fans have huge expectations for what this franchise should stand for,” he said.
“The more we could just focus on putting in the work to deliver to our fans what they want, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about me, it’s not about coach, it’s about our 15 players and trying to add to this Lakers legacy with championships.”
And if James’ public defense of Pelinka and the Lakers front office wasn’t strong enough, he ended with a clear indication of where stands.
“I’m happy to be a Laker,” James said.