After failing to get out the first round, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka made it clear the front office is ready to get right back to it — immediately.
“We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring banner No. 18 here,” Pelinka told reporters. “And we’re excited about the work we’re going to commence tomorrow to get that done for our fans and for the organization.”
The Lakers lost in six games to the Suns, dropping three straight and the final two games of the series in blowout fashion. It was a season defined by injuries, none of which were bigger than those to LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Both were hurting in the middle of the year and when it mattered most at the end.
“I’m convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we’d be a championship-caliber team,” Pelinka said. “So the goal is to try to keep that core group together.”
He added that Lakers owner Jeannie Buss is every bit as committed to returning the franchise to true contention as the basketball staff, despite what is sure to be a high price to do so. As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin noted, the Lakers already have more than $100 million in salary going to just four players next season — James, Davis, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“Jeanie [Buss] and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing, and that’s to smartly build a roster to win championships,” Pelinka said. “I think next year, of course, hopefully, with all of our fans being able to come back and be a part of the building, we owe them the work to start the process of retooling and have a championship-caliber team that can do special things next year.
“That’s the driving passion, and there’s alignment there between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches. That will always be the goal.”
Without a doubt, the Lakers’ could have a very different look in reserve next season, as six players will be unrestricted free agents. That lists consists of Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris, Wesley Matthews, Ben McLemore and Jared Dudley.
Also, while coach Frank Vogel will return, assistant Jason Kidd has already been linked to the Trail Blazers’ and Celtics’ vacancies. Fellow assistant Phil Handy is also always considered a hot candidate.
So there will be no shortage of key decisions ahead, as Pelinka and his staff try to figure out which dollars makes the most sense.
“I think when you fall short of the goal that you set, it has to drive you,” Pelinka said. “It has to be the fuel that drives your passion, and I think us falling short as a team, that in some sense is going to be part of our motivation and putting in the work to getting back at it, and start training camp next year with a strong roster.”