FOX Sports NBA Writer
Los Angeles Lakers fans have called for General Manager Rob Pelinka to be fired. After losses, he was often seen hurrying through the tunnels of Crypto.com Arena, eyes on the ground. For a season and a half, the Lakers were considered one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA.
While that was a reality for the Lakers five months ago, that dark period for the franchise now seems light years away.
The first major change came at the February close when Pelinka dealt out Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley and added six new players, giving them more size, shot power, edge protection and better chemistry. They progressed from 13th place in the west to legitimate contenders, making it to the conference finals.
In the early days of free agency, Pelinka only made the team deeper and stronger while re-signing the team’s key players, including Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell.
Now Pelinka is widely celebrated. LeBron James gave him a very public nod of approval and posted photos on Instagram of every player the Lakers had struck deals with. Kendrick Perkins, a former player and current ESPN analyst, even named the Lakers the free agency winners.
On Friday, the Lakers agreed to contracts with Hachimura (three years, $51 million), Gabe Vincent (three years, $33 million), Taurean Prince (one year, $4.5 million) and Cam Reddish (two years, $4.6 million, player option enabled). second year).
Also agreed on Saturday were Russell (two years, $37 million, player option on second year), Jaxson Hayes (two years, money not known at this time) and Reaves (four years, $56 million, player option on fourth year). year) on deals.
It’s a stroke of luck for Pelinka, who has come under scrutiny for trading some key figures from the 2020 Lakers’ winning team (including Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) to take over Westbrook in 2021. That turned out to be an absolute disaster for the Lakers. who missed the playoffs in 2022 and apparently met the same fate for the second year in a row before being re-included in the roster.
Should the Lakers settle for running back?
Now the Lakers are undoubtedly one of those teams who are scared of next season.
Here’s a quick look at the Lakers’ recent moves:
Reaves, who was undrafted from Oklahoma in 2021, was the Lakers’ biggest upset last season. He went from being an NBA fringe player to becoming the team’s third-best scorer in the playoffs behind James and Anthony Davis, averaging 16.9 points, 46.4% shots, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Avoiding potentially having to bid games over $100 million to keep Reaves, the Lakers re-signed him for the maximum they could bid without having to match.
[How Austin Reaves, the ‘Hillbilly Kobe,’ won over LeBron James]
Then there’s Hachimura, who continued to make a deep impression in the postseason with his efficient play, fearlessness, ability to protect the ring and his shot. He averaged 12.2 points with a 55.7% shot percentage in the playoffs, 48.7% of which was from long range.
As for Russell, the Lakers got him for a relatively cheap price after he proved he can be a reliable if shooting player in the regular season, averaging 17.4 points and 6.1 assists in 17 games scored His rating plummeted after he struggled in the playoffs, particularly against the Denver Nuggets when he averaged just 6.8 points on a 32.3% shot percentage.
With Vincent, the Lakers received an important cog for the final run of the Miami Heat. Vincent, who went undrafted by UC Santa Barbara in 2018, excelled in his build-up play and shots on goal, including scoring the highest team 8-on-12 shooting 23 points in the Heat’s win over the Nuggets in Game 2 Final.
With the 6-foot-11 Hayes, the Lakers added size, athleticism and rim protection. With Prince they acquired a 3-and-D player. And at Reddish, they increase their chord. The Lakers also kept Jarred Vanderbilt by taking his $4.7 million team option.
The Lakers put in a strong showing in the playoffs before being defeated by the eventual Nuggets in the conference finals. In the first round they defeated the young and talented Memphis Grizzlies and in the second round they knocked out the then-reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
That prompted Pelinka to say during his farewell interview that he believed in this Lakers reboot.
“We were just around the corner from the possible NBA finals,” said Pelinka in May. “And anything could happen in the NBA Finals. I think there is conceptual evidence that this was a really good team. But we will not rest on our laurels here either. If there are ways to get even better. Whether it’s through the draft, through trades or free agency, we’re always striving to improve. But we have a core that is extremely successful.”
The Lakers’ success over the free hand is certainly a welcome development for 38-year-old James, who has indicated he is considering retiring after a season in which he became the league’s all-time leading scorer and broke all sorts of records Player in 20th year of career.
LeBron hints at retirement after losing to the Nuggets
But James was obviously very drained emotionally and physically after failing to achieve his ultimate goal.
“I don’t like to say it’s a successful year because at this point in my career I’m only playing to win championships,” James said in May. “… We’ll see what happens in the future. I don’t know it. I don’t know it. To be honest, I have a lot to think about.”
Sources have since told FOX Sports that they believe James will return. One thing’s for sure: The Lakers have built a team designed to compete, which will obviously play a big part in James’ ultimate decision.
For Pelinka it was a whirlwind.
He went from a player viewed as a failure to an absolute success, a journey that left whiplash for the general manager of a franchise that has won a record 17 NBA championships.
Now the Lakers are back at the center of the basketball world and are expected to be there next season.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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