Magic Johnson wanted Rob Pelinka as GM from moment he took his new job

Rob Pelinka
Rob Pelinka talks with Kobe Bryant during an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game at Honda Center on March 26, 2016.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Two weeks after Magic Johnson chose Rob Pelinka to be the Lakers’ new general manager, the team made the move official.

Pelinka is now the 13th general manager in franchise history.

“The Lakers are a gold standard for sports franchises in the world, so we all share a responsibility to pursue excellence in everything we do,” Pelinka said in a statement Tuesday. “Excellence is what the Lakers stand for, what Jeanie Buss and Earvin Johnson embody, and what Coach Walton demands from our players. That obsession for greatness is what will bring Lakers basketball back to a championship level.”

Pelinka was a player agent for nearly 20 years. Before officially becoming the general manager, he had to divest from his agency in order to avoid any conflict of interest. That caused the two-week delay between Johnson’s selection of Pelinka and his officially being hired.


Pelinka will report to Johnson, the new president of basketball operations, and Buss, the governor and president. Johnson has said he’ll empower his general manager while having the final say on basketball matters.

“We have worked closely with Rob for many years and have firsthand experience with his knowledge of the league and the business of basketball,” Buss said in a statement. “In our recent discussions, it was clear that he also shares our goal of returning the Lakers to being an elite NBA franchise. Together with Earvin and Coach [Luke] Walton, I believe we are in a great position to bring winning basketball back to the Lakers.”

His former clients include James Harden and Eric Gordon of the Rockets, Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors and, most famously, retired Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant.

“No one knows the business of basketball more than @robpelinka,” Bryant said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I wish him & the Lakers much success as they bring winning bball back to LA.”


Pelinka joins the Lakers at a fraught time in the franchise’s history. On Feb. 21 Jeanie Buss fired Mitch Kupchak, who had been the team’s general manager for 17 years, and part of the organization in some way for most of 36 years. She also removed her brother, Jim Buss, from his position as executive vice president of basketball operations and installed Johnson.

Then last week, Jim Buss and his brother Johnny Buss called the team’s annual shareholders meeting to attempt to elect new members of the Lakers’ board of directors, excluding their sister from the list. After Jeanie Buss’ attorney informed them she would be pursuing a temporary restraining order to stop the meeting, the brothers canceled the meeting and signed a document ensuring Jeanie Buss would remain the Lakers’ controlling owner. A May 15 court date is pending, during which Jeanie Buss and her lawyer hope to resolve the matter.

As the family drama swirled behind the scenes, the Lakers proceeded with their reorganization.

Johnson took little time in choosing Pelinka as his general manager. He said the day he took his new job that front-office experience didn’t matter to him. He wanted a modern choice, and cited Golden State Warriors General Manager Bob Myers as a positive example of someone making the shift from agent to GM.

Myers was an agent before moving into a front-office role. He was an assistant general manager for a year before becoming the Warriors’ general manager in 2012. The Lakers now have a first-year head coach, a first-year general manager and a first-year president of basketball operations.

“I think you get people in there that have succeeded,” Walton said. “Work together in figuring things out and communicating what direction we’re going in. Even though there’s a lack of experience with those jobs, and including my job, there’s a lot of basketball knowledge and basketball experience. We’ve all been part of winning or successful situations. I think it will be a good team to be a part of.”

The task before Pelinka and Johnson isn’t an easy one. The Lakers have won 84 games in the last four seasons and have had lottery picks in the last three. They’ll have another one this year if their pick does not fall out of the top three.

The Lakers, who have lost eight games in a row, currently have the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record in the NBA. On Thursday they’ll play the Phoenix Suns, who have the third-worst record in the league.


It’s a place this franchise isn’t accustomed to being, and a place Jeanie Buss will expect to be out of soon.

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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