Lakers' GM Rob Pelinka Remains Hopeful A Champion Will Be Crowned

Melissa Rohlin

Rob Pelinka looks at a quote from Nelson Mandela every morning that he keeps on his desk. 

Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair."

Pelinka, the Lakers' general manager and vice president of basketball relations, pointed to those words as an example of just how important sports are during uncertain times, such as this current period of great angst, fear and anxiety amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Even though NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he won't know whether the league will resume at least until May, Pelinka said he's choosing to remain hopeful that professional basketball will return. 

"I can say definitively that all of us hope there's a way to have an NBA champion crowned," Pelinka said over a Zoom meeting with a small group of reporters Wednesday. "I think that is something that the whole world and sports fans and NBA fans hope is that we can find a way to have a champion for the 2020 season. But we will only do that if the health officials and if Adam Silver and the league and everyone thinks that's the best thing for the safety of the players."

Pelinka said the entire Lakers organization is operating as though the league suspension, which was placed on March 11 after Utah's Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, will eventually be lifted.

"Our coaching staff, I know they’re studying extra game film, they’re getting prepared for if we get the green light at some point," Pelinka said. "What would playoff matchups look like? And how do we get ahead of our preparation there? For the guys, we work hard with our strength and conditioning staff to make sure they have fitness bundles delivered to them where we can do Zoom workouts." 

The Lakers, who were atop the Western Conference with a record of 49-14 before the hiatus, have found ways to keep connected despite social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

"This is a team that just loved being together, whether it was on the bench, on the bus, in the locker room," Pelinka said. "These guys just have a great chemistry of being together. So they’ve tried to stay as connected as possible in the ways they can, working out together virtually."

The Lakers had finally turned things around this season. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and were readying to compete for their first championship since 2010. 

Pelinka said he's impressed with what the Lakers have accomplished so far -- and hopes to see whether they can accomplish their ultimate goal. 

"I look at our season like a series of tests, and we got a lot of As," Pelinka said. "And we got some A-pluses and some A-minuses. And I think there has been a lot of success in that. We haven't had the chance to take a final exam yet. But that doesn't mean we're not gonna celebrate the As that we've gotten so far. And I do think there's a sense of fulfillment in that."

Pelinka added that he's in support of the Lakers' top brass deferring 20 percent of their salary to protect the jobs of lower-paid employees during the suspension. 

"We saw this at the NBA a few weeks ago," Pelinka said. "There was great leadership there. And anything I can do to be a part of an initiative that allows people to keep their jobs during crisis and hard times, I'll be a part of that."

Pelinka said he's not sure which two Lakers players tested positive for COVID-19 last month. The majority of the team was tested March 18 after four players on the Brooklyn Nets, the last team the Lakers played before the season came to a screeching halt, tested positive for the virus. 

"The protocol was set up so only our team doctor would know and the players would know," Pelinka said. "And the choices beyond that would be made by the individual themselves of whether that was something that they would make public or not."

Pelinka added that during this time, he's really missing his good friend Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Pelinka was Bryant's longtime agent before he took a management role with the Lakers. 

Over what's been a very tough couple of months, Pelinka has tried to channel Bryant's mentality. 

"If you were on a knight’s journey with him and a huge fire-breathing dragon ended up in the pathway ahead, he would say, 'OK, this is why this is good right now, we’re going to meet this challenge, and here’s how we’re going to get around it, and here’s how we’re going to defeat it.'" Pelinka said of Bryant. "That was just his nature, is that obstacles or hard times would lead somehow to growth. And I think that’s the way I’m going to look at 2020, not just in terms of the loss of Kobe but just in general. I think some of these hard times we’ll have to grow through to get stronger because of them and just hold onto the future hope."