Lakers Rumors: Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and More LA Dysfunction Detailed

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2019

FILE - In this July 11, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka speaks at a news conference at the NBA basketball team's headquarters in El Segundo, Calif. The  Lakers say they have mutually agreed to part ways with coach Luke Walton after three losing seasons. Pelinka announced Walton's departure Friday, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
Reed Saxon/Associated Press

Some within the Los Angeles Lakers organization had unflattering things to say about general manager Rob Pelinka in an article written by ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes on Tuesday.

Multiple team staffers told Holmes they feel Pelinka is "disingenuous." Also, a member of L.A.'s coaching staff suggested Pelinka isn't trustworthy: "We think, more often than not, he's not being truthful. That goes throughout the organization."

One former Lakers player also told Holmes the situation was "f--king crazy over there."

Following Magic Johnson's resignation as the Lakers' president of basketball operations, Pelinka is in charge of L.A.'s personnel moves.

When Johnson appeared on ESPN's First Take last week, he cited "backstabbing" as the reason behind his departure and singled out Pelinka:

Per Holmes, Pelinka called Johnson's comments "saddening" and "disheartening" and added, "They're just simply not true."

Pelinka, who was best known for representing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant before L.A. hired him as its GM in 2017, was also accused of "deflecting blame" and not taking "ownership or responsibility" in certain situations by anonymous Lakers basketball operations staffers.

One example provided to Holmes of a time when Pelinka was untruthful came in March 2018 when Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was addressing the team at practice as part of the Lakers' "Genius Talks" series.

During the session, Pelinka claimed that he facilitated a dinner between Bryant and Heath Ledger after Ledger played The Joker in The Dark Knight.

"There was one time when Kobe, who I worked with for 18 years, was going back to play in Madison Square Garden, and he had just seen 'The Dark Knight.' Obviously, you guys saw that movie, and he's like, 'Hey, hook me up with dinner with Heath Ledger, because he got so locked into that role. I want to know how he mentally went there.' So, he had dinner with Heath, and he talked about how he locks in for a role. And Kobe used some of that in his game against the Knicks."

Ledger died six months before The Dark Knight was released in July 2008, and a source told Holmes that the dinner between Bryant and Ledger never took place.

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported Bryant was "livid" at being included in the general narrative around the Lakers, which is presumably a reference to the Ledger anecdote.

Smith provided further insight, reporting Pelinka had provided an assurance to Larry Nance Jr. the Lakers wouldn't trade him, even if offered Kevin Durant by the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers then dealt Nance to the Cleveland Cavaliers in February 2018.

Representatives for D'Angelo Russell "got similar stories as well" regarding his exit from Los Angeles.

Holmes noted Pelinka sits in on pregame and halftime coaches' meetings at times, which is atypical for NBA general managers. One member of the Lakers' coaching staff noted it prevents players from speaking freely and was a point of contention with former Lakers head coach Luke Walton.

Johnson didn't escape criticism either, with one member of the front office describing him as inflexible and difficult to work for.

"If you questioned him on anything, his response was always a threatening tone," the employee said. "He used intimidation and bullying as a way of showing authority."

Of course, Johnson is gone now, while Walton and the Lakers parted ways after going 37-45 this season. Walton has since been hired by the Sacramento Kings.

In Walton's place, a front office group led by Pelinka hired former Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel.

That was the first step in what could be a busy offseason for the Lakers as they look to end a six-year playoff drought. To take advantage of having LeBron James on the roster, L.A. likely needs to add at least one star via trade or free agency.

Trading for New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is a possibility, as is signing a big-ticket free agent such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker or Nikola Vucevic.

Regardless, it appears Pelinka will remain in charge of building L.A.'s roster.

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