Inside the L.A. Lakers' Plans to Restructure Front Office

Eric PincusLA Lakers Lead WriterMay 8, 2017

Magic Johnson, left, listens as Rob Pelinka talks during a news conference introducing him as the new general manager for the Los Angeles Lakers, in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, March 10, 2017. The Lakers introduced Pelinka, Kobe Bryant's longtime agent, as their new general manager. Pelinka will work with Johnson to rebuild the 16-time NBA champions from the worst four-year stretch in team history. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Nick Ut/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Days before the February 23rd NBA trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers underwent a transformation.

Team executive Jeanie Buss relieved her sibling and fellow co-owner Jim Buss of his duties as president of basketball operations. Additionally, longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak was let go.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Rob Pelinka were hired in their stead, respectively, as the franchise looked to refocus after what would be four straight lottery-bound seasons.

The new leadership team has begun to restructure a franchise that "can't act like we have fallback options [just] because we are the Lakers," according to a person within the organization, speaking to Bleacher Report with the promise of anonymity.

Instead of operating with a single scouting unit, the Lakers will organize into four tiers: college, international, NBA and the NBA Development League (rechristened as the G-League as of the 2017-18 season).

The college scouting will remain primarily the same given the team's recent track record with successful picks like Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 11: Brandon Ingram #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after a slam dunk against New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of the basketball game at Staples Center April 11, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: Us
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

"The college department was obviously our most prominent," the source said. "Internationally, we only had one scout, who does an amazing job—Antonio Maceirasand he will continue in that role, but we will add in that department."

Before his ouster, Kupchak credited Maceiras for the team's drafting of Zubac with the 32nd pick in the 2016 NBA draft.

The Lakers will likely add a couple of scouts focused primarily on studying current NBA players. Director of player personnel Ryan West will work on both the NBA and college scouting tiers.

Lakers co-owner Joey Buss will continue as the president and CEO of the D-Fenders (rebranded as the South Bay Lakers) with general manager Nick Mazzella.

The Lakers intend to add one to two scouts who are focused solely on potential call-ups, two-way contracts, training camp and summer league invites from among the NBA's minor league ranks.

Additionally, the franchise will continue to beef up its analytics department, which hasn't had a major role in personnel decisions to date.

The team recently parted ways with director of basketball analytics Yuju Lee.

"We don't have to really change the way we have done the draft," the source said. "In terms of everything else, I feel we have areas to improve, especially in free-agent acquisitions...we just have to be precise and efficient in every area."

The Lakers do not expect to replace assistant general manager Glenn Carraro, who resigned in April after 17 years with the franchise. Carraro served as the team's salary-cap expert.

Co-owner Jesse Buss will retain his titles of assistant general manager and director of scouting, overseeing the four tiers as they evolve. The organization has already embraced a more collaborative approach since the Johnson and Pelinka hirings.

Other recent departures include director of player development Rondre Jackson, director of basketball operations Tania Jolly and strength and conditioning coaches Tim DiFrancesco and Sean Light.

The Lakers are committed to Luke Walton, who guided the team to 26 wins through his first year as an NBA head coach, a nine-game improvement over the 2015-16 franchise low of 17.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 17:  Rob Pelinka, General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 17, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The team will learn its draft fate on May 16. The Lakers have a 46.9 percent chance of keeping their pick. If it's not in the top three, it will convey to the Philadelphia 76ers to close out the Lakers' ill-fated 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Phoenix Suns.

In April, Pelinka said the Lakers are prepared for either scenario.

Adding another top prospect in June would be a clear boon for the Lakers—either on the roster or as trade bait to help the team land an All-Star-caliber player.

Whatever the result, the Lakers are hoping an improved front office will lead to long-term success.

   

Lakers Insider Notebook

Bryant Helping the Celtics

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23:  Kobe Bryant attends Tribeca Talks during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Borough of Manhattan Community College on April 23, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

It might be considered sacrilege given the longtime rivalry between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics, but retired All-Star Kobe Bryant has backed the green squad in its second-round battle against the Washington Wizards.

Bryant reached out to Boston All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, according to Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald, helping him break down video of the Wizards' defensive schemes.

Thomas, one of the smallest players in the NBA at 5'9", scored 53 in the Celtics' Game 2 overtime win. He's also playing through a personal tragedy after the recent loss of his sister Chyna in an automobile accident.

Washington has since tied the series with two straight wins at home. The series resumes Wednesday in Boston. It's unclear whether Bryant and Thomas will reconvene before Game 5.

Bryant may be showing respect to Thomas, paying forward his basketball knowledge to a fiery competitor, but the Lakers are just one NBA title behind Boston's 17.

That would be a tough pill to swallow for Lakers fans if Bryant helped the rival Celtics get to 18.

   

Deng Surgery

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

On Wednesday, the Lakers announced veteran forward Luol Deng underwent surgery to repair his right pectoral muscle.

Deng, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract last summer, dropped out of the rotation in late February as the team looked to develop younger players.

In 56 appearances, Deng averaged 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game, shooting a career-worst 38.7 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from three-point range. The Lakers expect he'll make a full recovery before training camp, but it's unclear how he'll fit into the rotation next year.

Ingram made the case that he should be the starting small forward next season after finishing his rookie campaign with a flourish. After averaging just 8.0 points on 36.3 percent shooting from the field before the All-Star break, Ingram contributed 13.2 points at 47.5 percent shooting over his final 21 games.

At 32 years old, Deng may be better suited as a reserve power forward, but as constructed, the Lakers need those minutes to go to Randle and Nance.

Deng's lengthy contract is just one of the many challenges the Lakers' new front office will have to deal with in the coming months (and possibly years).  

   

Mayweather Looking for a Team

A regular at Staples Center to see the Los Angeles Clippers or Lakers play, boxing mogul Floyd Mayweather is hoping to get into the NBA business as an owner.

After meeting last week, Johnson praised Mayweather as both a "boxing world champion and an excellent businessman!"

Mayweather made his plea via Instagram: "It's about time for me to buy an NBA team. If you're ready to sell your NBA team, please get in touch with me."

While Mayweather is a multimillionaire, it remains to be seen whether he can find traction in an industry of billionaire owners like Steve Ballmer of the Clippers.

The Lakers, owned primarily by the Buss family, are not for sale.  

   

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @EricPincus.