A common theme from the final two-plus months of the season was this idea that all of the players were now “on notice” regarding their future with the team. With Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka taking over for the dispatched Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, the narrative (for lack of a better word) became one of the players needing to “impress their new bosses” and “show that they belong on the team” for the future.
It got to the point where an uptick in play by some of the young players (ahem, D’Angelo Russell) was, at times, attributed to Magic and Pelinka coming on board and inspiring guys to play better/harder. And I’m sure there’s some truth to that. In my experience, whenever a new boss comes on board, you want to reinforce your value by working hard and putting out your best effort. I would imagine this concept is even more relevant in professional sports.
How much this idea was real and how much of it was projecting by media, fans, etc doesn’t really matter, honestly. What does matter, though, is that the tables are now turning away from the players and back onto Magic and Pelinka who, in their first off-season running the team, are themselves about to be on notice.
While Pelinka noted in his media session following the team’s exit interviews that the players were going to be held to a certain standard of excellence, he also noted that the message of living up that standard applied to him, Magic, and their staff too. And while that’s a nice soundbite, the fact is, now is really their time to turn the vision they want for the team into an executable plan which can start to bear fruit.
None of this will be straight forward or easy. You cannot look forward to what this new front office will try to do without first acknowledging how they will be burdened by some of the mistakes their predecessors made. Whether it’s the presence of some bad contracts, the unbalanced nature of the roster, or the uncertainty of the team’s own lottery pick, there are challenges to work through. It should be noted, too, that I don’t think anyone expects everything to turn around in one summer.
But that doesn’t change the tenor of this summer. Even if the Lakers keep their draft pick, the margin for error is slim. The team needs to carry whatever momentum it has forward and continue to make positive strides which brighten the future outlook of the team. It goes without saying, but they must avoid mistakes entirely — even smaller ones which in a normal summer for a better team could be managed or smoothed over time. The hole is simply too deep, though, for any of that now.
In other words, it’s now time for Magic and Pelinka to show why they were good choices for their jobs. If that sounds dramatic, it kind of is. I don’t think anyone should be expecting them to move heaven and earth to build the next great Lakers team right away, but what the timing of their hires and the backdrop of several consecutive losing seasons looms. To their credit, I think they understand this too. Pelinka has preached excellence and Magic has talked about building things the right way to create a lasting contender which reflects the team’s history and that fans can be proud of.
And while both Rob and Magic have been careful with regards to timelines and, if anything, noted that they have a long ways to go, I think they both do want to get things back on track quickly. Which, like for some of their rookie players, makes this first summer a key one for their long term development and growth.