EL SEGUNDO, CA-There are no welcome banners for LeBron James draped outside of the Los Angeles Lakers practice facility in El Segundo. The rah-rah atmosphere or celebration of landing the best player in the NBA is not happening. That’s not how the Lakers operate. The Lakers have always been the class of the NBA, and even with the signing of James, the organization continues to conduct business as usual. No extravagant fanfare needed.
Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Rob Peinka epitomized this coolness as he went about his duties to speak to the media about all the transactions the team has made recently. There were a couple of takeaways from Pelinka’s press conference as he talked for nearly a half hour about the franchise landing James and the unfinished business that he and Magic Johnson (president of basketball operations) are continually working to address.
James coming to play for the Purple and Gold was at the center of things. The slew of players signed during this offseason the Lakers signed was at the top of the discussion chart as well. Pelinka also delved into the types of players the Lakers went after that would effectively compliment James and his basketball wizardry and explained why the team made the moves that they did.
Among the moves the Lakers have made was signing veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, center JaVale McGee, long-distance specialist Channing Frye, and adding the tenacious presence of Lance Stephenson. Along with the youth of Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, the Lakers have a good mix of young players mixed in with the wisdom of veterans. Not only that, Pelinka said the team was conscious to note that he and Johnson wanted players that were versatile, and not one-dimensional.
“We did not want to go out and just sign specialists,” Pelinka said. “We wanted tough, two-way players.”
The NBA landscape changed dramatically when James committed and later signed a four-year, $154 million contract to suit up and play for the Lakers. The James’ signing was, according to a baseball analogy, a grand slam for the Lakers. Pelinka, who had the spotlight all to himself in his media presentation, sounded very much relieved to see the hard work he and Johnson have spent the last couple of years in reshaping the Lakers franchise, come full circle.
“To get a commitment from LeBron James to come to the Lakers for four years was really the culmination of everything that we’ve been working towards,” Pelinka said.
“When Earvin (Magic Johnson) and I were tasked by Jeanie (Buss) to take this job, we were looking at a salary cap that was old; there was no cap room. We were looking at a draft war chest that was somewhat depleted of picks that had been traded out. Earvin and I, in our past careers, felt like we had both done the impossible, worked on some hard tasks, and we kind of looked at each other and said hey, we’ve gotta make something work out of this. It’s a challenging beginning, but we have to start playing chess. We have to make the right moves and get to a place to where we can create flexibility…When LeBron chose to come here, it was the ultimate validation for the moves we’ve made and what we’ve been building since we started.”
Getting James might be enough for some teams, but it isn’t for the Lakers. Hanging up some more championship banners at Staples Center is the goal for Lakers. To do that, the process of upgrading the team to that championship level is not complete, said Pelinka.
“For the greatest player in the world to come on board, to become part of the Lakers, just made Magic and I, Jeanne and Luke (Walton) so proud of the work we’ve done so far,” Pelinka said. “The work is not done by any stretch of the imagination. We’re on a journey towards bringing the 17th banner to the Los Angeles Lakers, and we know we still have work to do to get there.”