It’s certainly nothing new for a Lakers off-season to be chalk full of rumours and drama galore. After all, fans and press covering the team have had six plus off-seasons with no postseason participation in which to speculate about matters ranging from potential free agents to coaching candidates.
This year, however, has been a very different animal due to the rumours that have emerged since Magic Johnson’s bizarre firing of himself as President of Basketball Operations before the Lakers’ final regular season game. With the Lakers yet to announce in any official capacity who is to fill Magic Johnson’s shoes in the front office in what has been billed as the most important off-season in Laker history (since last season), the speculation regarding the future of the Lakers franchise has hit an all-time high for one reason: an inexplicable silence emanating from Lakers top brass, namely, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.
After Magic Johnson’s abrupt retirement from the Lakers earlier this month, the prevailing viewpoint was that since Jeanie’s “hire-a-true-Laker-in-my-inner-circle” plan had failed in spectacular fashion, it was time for the Lakers to broaden their horizons and find the best talent regardless of their ties or lack thereof to the Lakers.
The Lakers’ response? After Magic Johnson stepped down, there was a vague excerpt in the Lakers’ official statement stating they would “work in a measured and methodical fashion to make the right moves for the future of our organisation”. Ever since, however, no “official” moves have been announced by the front office. This begged the question as to why the silence from the organisation that for the past few years has been as leaky as a submarine with a screen door?
Then, before hearing any new names to replace Magic Johnson, reports begun surfacing that the Lakers were engaging in the process of hiring a new head coach to replace the recently-fired Luke Walton, which included names like Monty Williams, Tyronn Lue, and Juwan Howard as the early favorites. But… what? Interviewing coaching candidates before naming a new Lakers President of Basketball Operations? What in the name of out-of-order was going on? Who was picking the coaching candidates? The sound heard from the Lakers offices was the sound of silence.
Why search for a coach in the absence of the Lakers announcing a new President of Basketball Operations? One theory was that of a “shadow executive.” Specifically, Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports reported that there was a secret President of Basketball Operations either calling the shots or approving front office moves behind the scenes, but since this secret individual’s team was still in the playoffs, an official announcement would come later.
Of course this theory makes no sense. Not only would it be textbook tampering, which would surely result in severe punishment for the Lakers if true, but teams can ask for permission to talk with executives of other teams even if those teams are still in the playoffs. One need look no further than Minnesota’s talks with the Clippers’ GM, Michael Winger, about him becoming their new President of Basketball Operations while the Clippers were still battling the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. But, in the face of absolute silence from the Lakers, such rumours can’t help but find a home.
Then came the seemingly more substantiated reports by more connected members of the media such as ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne who began reporting that Rob Pelinka, the GM of the Lakers for the past two seasons and who formerly worked under Magic Johnson, had begun to take on more power in the Lakers front office. This reporting was much to the dismay of many Lakers fans and media who believed Magic’s departure would also signal the end of Pelinka’s stay in Los Angeles.
The reports of Pelinka gaining more power within the front office seemed even more perplexing amidst reports that he was seen around the league as a person who is categorically disliked, unreliable, and untrustworthy. But despite several trusted reports of Pelinka’s fall upward within the front office, there was still no official announcement or statement from anyone in the Lakers organisation to corroborate them.
There are continued reports that Rob Pelinka may not be the sole decision-maker in the Lakers’ front office. Bill Oram of The Athletic reported that former showtime Laker fan favorite Kurt Rambis along with his wife, Linda Rambis (trusted confidant of Jeanie Buss), and others comprised a contingent of a new Lakers brass that were now becoming involved in the coaching interview process. The unsuccessful past of Kurt Rambis and unproven basketball knowledge of Linda Rambis aside, was there any official word from the Lakers organisation about the Rambis’ roles? Still nothing.
As a result of the silence in the face of multiple rumours and reports, Laker fans, starving for news are turning to previously unheard of and, shall we say, less-than-reliable twitter profiles who claim to “got sources” to find answers. Despite the fact that such “reports” of shadow executives and head coaching offers have lacked the credibility of even one corroborating report by more seasoned reporters, such twitter account “news breakers” continue to exist and gain a following for one reason: continued silence by the Laker front office.
Whether Laker fans want it or not, and it appears mostly not, Rob Pelinka along with Kurt and Linda Rambis appear to have prominent places in the Lakers front office. But this begs the question: if this is the Lakers’ direction of choice, why not send out a statement and officially end all of the speculation? Why not have done this weeks ago when reports began surfacing that Pelinka was taking over as the de facto President of Basketball Operations? Such silence continues to fuel hopes that the Lakers have some kind of secret plan they are waiting to announce.
This then continues to fuel the wild speculative rumours from sources ranging from the reliable to the not-so-reliable. Worse yet, the lack of official voice from the Lakers organisation makes the team look dysfunctional, disorganized, and unsure of itself. Which is not a good look for a franchise desperately seeking to land a top flight free agent this summer.
However, unpopular a decision it may be to name the Pelinka-Rambis contingent as heads of the new Laker front office, the Lakers could show some modicum of purpose, direction, and fortitude in leading the narrative instead of allowing others to write it for them by releasing some kind of official word on the topic to end the uncertainty and speculation in this very important off-season. Although, it should be noted that what most think the Lakers should do and what the Lakers actually do are often as wide apart as, well, a lake.
By Frank Gaulden (@FrankGaulden)