Rob Pelinka Says Lakers 'Hope For The Best' That Dwight Howard Will Be A Part Of Restart

Melissa Rohlin

Rob Pelinka said on a conference call Tuesday that the Lakers are hopeful that Dwight Howard will be on the roster when the NBA resumes near Orlando on July 30. 

Howard has been struggling since the mother of his six-year-old son, Melissa Rios, died on March 27 after having an epileptic seizure at her home in Calabasas. Howard has also expressed concerns that the NBA restart could distract from the movement for racial justice.  

"As you guys know, there was an opt-out date that Dwight did not give notice that he was opting out," said Pelinka, the Lakers' General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations. "So we are going to continue to work through those extenuating circumstances with Dwight, support him, support his six-year-old son and hope for the best that he would be a part of our roster in Orlando. But that will be a continued process."

Avery Bradley opted out of the season on June 23, a day before the soft deadline, because his six-year-old son has struggled with past respiratory illnesses, which could be problematic if he were to contract COVID-19. 

Pelinka acknowledged that was big loss for the team, considering Bradley started in 44 of 49 games and is a great perimeter defender. 

"It’s tough to lose Avery -- his toughness, his defensive tenacity," Pelinka said. "He was a starter. But we completely understand his decision. I think that, of course, that’s a decision of mixed emotion from a basketball standpoint. As a friend of Avery’s and [his wife] Ashley’s, and as a former agent of their family, and as the GM of the Lakers, I was really hoping for them to have an opportunity to compete for a championship. But I understand that in this instance, safety and family is first and that’s where things landed."

Pelinka said the Lakers will sign a replacement player for Bradley on Wednesday during the league's transaction window, though he declined to give more information.

The Lakers are reportedly finalizing a deal with JR Smith, who won a championship alongside LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and has 11 years of playoff experience, but hasn't played since Nov. of 2018 after mutually parting ways with the Cavaliers. 

"We can’t really talk about forward-looking transactions under the NBA rules," Pelinka said. 

Pelinka said he's been impressed by the players he's seen since the team's practice facility opened for individual workouts on May 16, saying they've managed to stay in "world-class shape." 

He declined to say if any Lakers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the league began mandatory testing June 23, pointing out that the NBA is in charge of those communications. And he added he wasn't certain if all of the Lakers would be available Wednesday when required individual workouts begin, saying it depends on their test results. 

"I can’t predict what the test results I’m going to get this afternoon will be," Pelinka said. "And so that question changes moment-to-moment, test-to-test. So that’s the best I can do. It’s such a fluid thing."

Pelinka said that he has some concerns around the NBA's restart, but added that the league has been meticulous in making it as safe as possible. 

"The fundamental tenant of the plans around the NBA restart on campus in Orlando are 'Can we create an environment there that is safer than an environment just in the real world?'" Pelinka said. "I think all of us see the reports and the numbers and the spikes in the various cities we live in and parts of Florida. Yes, of course, those numbers are daunting. But the whole purpose of creating this environment is to not have the virus be there and keep the virus on the outside. 

"The protocols are extensive and are thoughtful. That’s been hundreds and hundreds of hours of work by the NBA players union and by the NBA. I think our goal as a collective entity is to try to pull that off where it’s safer inside than on the outside. There are a lot of unknowns around that. It’ll be fluid. All of us just have to stay committed to being as safe as possible and taking it one day at a time."

Pelinka, who intends to be part of the Lakers' 35-person traveling party into the bubble provided he remains healthy, said he has a lot of trust in the league's plan, but will always remain committed to listening to his players and any worries that may develop. 

"I have a high level of confidence in the plans that they have put in place," Pelinka said. "We will as an organization listen with the highest voice to our players. They are the ones that are going to be clearly in the front lines of playing basketball. So we’re going to be sensitive to their needs there and how they are feeling there and if there are changes we can make. That’ll be at the center of what we do."

Pelinka said the league has not finalized whether it will eventually allow staff members' families into the bubble, saying that the focus right now should be on the players. That being said, he acknowledged that the uncertainty around that has been a sore spot for his family at times. 

"Listen, we’re all humans, we’re all part of families," Pelinka said. "I can’t say it doesn’t impact all of us. Have I had nights at dinner where I’ll look over and my 10-year-old daughter has tears in her eyes and I ask her why and she says, 'It’s because daddy could be gone for 3 ½ months?' Yes, that stuff is part of this.”

Pelinka said the bubble will be hard on everyone and the NBA is making mental health a huge priority, adding it will likely incorporate various forms of wellness, including yoga and meditation. 

When the Lakers head into the bubble, Pelinka hopes they accomplish two goals. He wants the Lakers, who are in first place in the Western Conference with a record of 49-14, to win their first championship since 2010. And he wants the NBA to use its platform to help combat racial injustice. 

Pelinka said over the last month, the team has had a lot of positive dialogue about how to fight systemic racism, including having former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lead a forum on race. 

Pelinka added that his family recently attended a Black Lives Matter protest, calling it incredible. Afterward, his 10-year-old daughter requested to watch the movies "Selma," "Harriet," "42" and "Just Mercy" and then discuss them over family dinners. 

"I just feel so proud how the players’ voices can help us learn and lead and impact change," Pelinka said. "I do think Orlando will be a big part of that, continuing to amplify that voice."