LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers thought they would reunite as a team on Friday to catch a flight to Phoenix for Game 7 of their first-round series against the Suns. Instead, they met for exit interviews from a season gone awry.
“I think when you don’t reach the goal you set for yourself, you have to push yourself,” Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said, speaking to reporters in a video conference. “It has to be the fuel that drives your passion, and I think we fell short as a team, that in some way will be part of our motivation and we will strive to do it again, and start training camp next year with a solid squad. “.
In the coming months, Pelinka will oversee a score of decisions surrounding the eight players on his team who will enter free agency, and a ninth, Montrezl Harrell, with a $ 9.7 million player option that he could choose not to exercise to test the market too ..
Despite finishing the seventh seed in the Western Conference and being eliminated in the first round, Pelinka echoed a belief shared by Lakers coach Frank Vogel and superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis after the loss. Los Angeles 113-100 in Game 6 Thursday that if his team had been injury-free this season, it could have been reached for a straight championship.
“I am convinced that again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances of this year, the challenges that we had to face, we would be a championship-caliber team,” he said. “So the goal is to try to keep that group together.”
With more than $ 100 million already pledged for four players next season – James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma – Pelinka was asked if he had the approval of the owners to dive deep into the luxury tax to retain some of the the key pieces.
“Jeanie [Buss] and the group of owners have empowered the front office to do one thing and that is to intelligently build a roster to win championships, “he said.” I think next year of course hopefully with all of our fans able to come back and To be part of the arena, we owe them the job to begin the re-equipment process and to have a championship-caliber team that can do special things next year. That’s the passion that drives and there’s alignment between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches. That will always be the goal. “
A goal he stated in no uncertain terms: “We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring Banner 18 here, and we are excited about the work we are going to start tomorrow to achieve it for our fans and for the organization.”
Pelinka, Vogel and every player on the Lakers roster except James, Caldwell-Pope and Kostas Antekounmpo, spoke to the media in an exit interview since the conclusion of the Suns series.
Point guard Dennis Schroder, one of the future free agents, said he did not turn down an $ 84 million contract extension during the regular season, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported, as a retaliatory measure for being included in the trade negotiations. by Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors.
“Let me clarify that first. I didn’t reject the extension because I was in business talks,” Schroder said. “I also own a team [de baloncesto] in Germany. I try to run my organization in Germany as fairly as possible, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business … That’s what Rob did too. He wasn’t even cool for the trade deadline, but he did talk to them to see. I also listened to offers. You don’t know what you can get, and you will see what your options are. “
Schroder said his relationship with Pelinka is very strong, he has an open-door policy with the executive whenever he needs something, and Pelinka spoke about what Schroder brings to the team.
“I think we can all see Dennis work, and he’s an extreme competitor, and that’s on both sides of the ball,” Pelinka said. “He’s chasing the guys, picking players across the court, diving for fumbles, bringing that energy to the defensive end, and of course he has that ability to score at point guard. We value those qualities in him. August is August and free agency is a couple of months away. There are a lot of different things that we will have to evaluate there, but Dennis is an attractive player to us just because of what he brings in. “
Andre Drummond started 27 games for the Lakers after joining the team out of the buyout market before receiving a DNP in Game 6 against the Suns.
“I think I’ve learned a lot just being close to the coaching staff, from our teammates,” Drummond said. “We have an incredible group of guys here. We can’t wait to build more with them.”
Drummond’s addition disrupted a pivot rotation that already had two newcomers in Harrell and Marc Gasol, who were added to replace JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
Pelinka said the decision to sign Drummond, who was a former client of hers during his agent days, was a no-brainer.
“His ability to bounce the ball and protect the rim and give us athleticism and size in the paint was an essential ingredient to add to the team and something we would do over and over again,” he said.
Harrell and Gasol also talked about their roles going forward.
“I came in every day and did my job,” Harrell said. “I did what they asked me to do. And I played my role, plain and simple. As for my future, I don’t know what is in store for me now. We just finished playing last night. I can’t give you that answer right now, bro.”
Gasol, who sometimes publicly complained about his role, said he found peace in the team’s collective struggle, acknowledging that he wasn’t the only one in Los Angeles trying to make things work.
“I am very grateful for the year that I lived,” said Gasol, who unlike Harrell and Drummond, has a contract with Los Angeles for the next season. “I know it obviously doesn’t end the way we all want it to, but you know, it’s probably been better than it looked from the outside, for me personally. I just enjoyed some of the things that happened. Some of the other things didn’t, but I tried to be positive. And, like I said, I am grateful for the opportunity I had here. “
Vogel is entering the final year of the three-year contract he signed to coach the Lakers in the summer of 2019. He would not discuss whether he had started extension talks with the team.
“I really prefer that those conversations remain private,” he said. “Obviously, I love being here. I love this organization and you know, I hope to be a Laker for life.”
Meanwhile, Pelinka gave him cordial support. “Frank is a guy that Kurt [Rambis] and me and the front office really enjoy working and he really does a great job with all of our players, and we see it as an important part of our future for sure, “he said.
While rerunning it next year with a similar core seemed to be the wish of many involved with the team, including key stakeholders in the decision-making process in James and Pelinka, Lakers forward Markieff Morris hinted that there are some bad apples.
“What I feel is we have to have guys come in to win,” said Morris, who is also a free agent and said he hopes to come back. “Sacrifice whatever it takes to win. To be in the lineup, to be out of the lineup. Not getting your shot, getting shots. We need men here who are battle tested. We need men here who have a goal in mind and that’s for win the championship. When you’re on a team with LeBron and AD, you know you come here to be a role player. Be the best in your role. And that’s what we need. Next year, I think we have to have that camaraderie. that we had our championship year to win it, to have a chance to win it again next year. “
Lakers veteran Jared Dudley, who just completed his fourteenth season and is about to turn 35 next month, said he wants to return to his role as locker room leader despite missing most of last season due to injury. “One thousand percent,” he said. “Come on, they need me man. They need me like I need them. Come on.”