Resignations seem to be a theme of late for the Lakers. Before the end of the season, Assistant GM Glenn Carraro stepped down. Then, earlier this week Strength and Conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco followed suit by resigning his post. Now, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes is reporting Director of Basketball Analytics Yuju Lee has also resigned:
Sources tell ESPN that the Los Angeles Lakers tried to demote Yuju Lee, their director of basketball analytics, but he instead decided to leave the organization altogether.
We know very little about Lee beyond what information was divulged in a press release from 2015 (when the Lakers also announced promotions for Jesse Buss and Ryan West). At that time, I wrote that I found it interesting Mitch Kupchak had decided to pull back the curtain on who was on the analytics staff, citing their credentials and background in a manner which was not consistent with the secretive manner the team operated with around this department to that point.
It was ultimately revealed that, considering the losing period the team was going through and the perception the Lakers were behind the times and an organization which did not fully embrace analytics’ value to the sport, Kupchak felt it necessary to be more transparent and forthcoming in an effort to help appease fans’ concerns in this area.
Now, though, Lee is moving on after the Lakers tried to demote him. So, does that mean the team is now taking a step backwards? My guess is the answer to that question is “no” and that has nothing to do with what I think of Lee or the job he was doing with the team. After all, I know very little about Lee and while I can rattle off the information provided about him and his credentials, those are only bullet points on press release.
No, I think this change is just another example of what happens when there is organizational change at the top and when those new decision makers have their own ideas of who they might want to be in these positions or the direction the organization wants to go in. In fact, I would argue the team was probably happy with Lee individually, as they would have preferred he stay on the staff — just in a reduced role. I could see how that might ruffle Lee’s feathers (no one likes being demoted) and, thus, he departed instead.
Further, I would argue this new Lakers’ regime likely values analytics a great deal. Magic’s background with the Dodgers includes a revamp of the team’s analytics department and the placing of great value in how information gleaned from that side of house can positively influence on-field results. Back in 2016, Magic was also a major investor in the tech startup ShotTracker, a company which makes wearable technology for basketball players.
Pelinka, meanwhile, may not have those same types of direct ties that Magic does, but his background as an agent would lend me to reason that he’s also someone who greatly understands the value of how analytics can be used to increase player performance and, thus, value. It’s interesting to note, too, that some of Pelinka’s former clients can be seen as analytics darlings — specifically James Harden and Chris Bosh (one of the first PF’s who started to play C full time and shoot the 3 ball as a permanent fixture of his game). Pelinka also worked closely with the Rockets and analytics poster-boy GM Darryl Morey, not only because of Harden, but with former clients Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon.
None of this definitely means Pelinka or Magic will transform the Lakers’ analytics department, but I do believe this is an area where they will invest heavily. And, honestly, it’s about time this is the case.
Again, I’m not going to disparage Lee or even Kupchak and Jim Buss. The nature of this type of work and how the former regime worked meant that we’d never now how much or little the team was doing in this area. But, I will say, that the soundbites we’ve gotten from Magic and Pelinka are that they are about “excellence” and trying to leverage the Lakers’ brand and resources in every avenue they can. They want to build a top flight organization where players will want to come and that means beefing up every area or the franchise.
That’s already begun with the team’s construction of a new practice and training facility and, I believe, the changeover in staff will result in a similar investment. Which, again, is very much needed. As I’ve written before multiple times, the Lakers need to always push the envelope by investing in areas of the organization which are not governed by the collective bargaining agreement. Hire the best coaches, the best training staff, and, yes, the best analytics staff that money can buy. Put money and resources into the parts of the franchise which support the players and on-court product as much as possible in order to optimize performance and results.
In the end, doing that may mean good people move on. And, I would imagine, DiFrancesco and Lee fit into that description. But, in the long run, the Lakers can still turn this type of changeover into positives by bringing in replacements who also do good work and then supplementing those guys with an even deeper stable of team members to do even better work. At least that’s the hope. We’ll how it plays out.