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Rob Pelinka says Lakers passed all tests, hopes for Finals exam

Rob Pelinka, Lakers general manager and vice president of basketball operations, says the team passed all its tests this season.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Rob Pelinka emphasized the primary importance of public health as he made each statement, but with that in mind he hopes there is a way for the NBA season to resume.

“It’s almost like I look at our season as a series of tests and we took a lot of tests and we got a lot of A’s,” said the Lakers general manager and vice president of basketball operations. “We got some A-pluses and A-minuses. We haven’t had a chance to take a final exam yet. … Those are things that I’m very grateful for, that people did a lot of work to put into that. We do hope we get a chance to finish what we started.”

Pelinka spoke on a video conference call with a small group of local and national reporters from his home in Orange County. Personally, he said, his days have included helping his middle school-age children with their history projects, or hearing the conversations his wife, a pediatrician, has with other doctors who are treating patients with COVID-19.

On the basketball side of things, his days have been filled with preparing for the future — whatever that might look like — as the NBA hopes to resume a season that was postponed March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

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“We have to continue to look for avenues and pathways of how this might play out,” Pelinka said. “All of us hope there’s a way to have an NBA champion crowned.”

The Lakers are in first place in the Western Conference and have the second-best record in the league, after the Milwaukee Bucks. The league suspended operations on March 11, about one month before the regular season was to end.

Having already clinched a playoff spot, the Lakers were looking forward to their first playoff appearance since the 2013-14 season.

The Lakers had weathered several crises before the season shut down. In the preseason they went to China, where a conflict between the NBA and the Chinese government altered their plans. In January, Pelinka lost his best friend, and the organization grieved the death of Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.

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The Lakers plan to ask top-level executives to voluntarily defer 20% of their pay as the team navigates its finances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Pelinka thinks about this season, he tries to imagine how Bryant would have reacted to all the challenges it presented.

“I think in a time like this a friend like Kobe is especially missed,” Pelinka said. “If you were on a nice journey with him and a huge fire-breathing dragon ended up in the pathway, you’d say, ‘OK this is why this is good right now, we’re going to meet this challenge’ … that was just his nature is that obstacles and hard times would lead somehow to growth. That’s the way I’m going to look at 2020, not just in terms of the loss of Kobe but just in general. I think some of these hard times will have to grow through to get stronger.”

A look at how sports leagues, including the NFL, MLB, MLS, NBA and NHL, are responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

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