EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — As he strolled toward the podium setup at the Los Angeles Lakers’ swanky practice facility, general manager Rob Pelinka clutched a book beneath his arm.
It was not just any book, though. It was not a coincidence.
To Pelinka, “The Alchemist,” written by author Paulo Coehlo, symbolized a convergence of things and people, which was why he was speaking on this day.
LeBron James signed on the dotted line Monday, finalizing a transition to the next stage of his life with a four-year, $154 million deal. With his signing, the Lakers’ front office entered the next stage in the franchise’s progression.
James’ decision was a culmination of decisions made by the Lakers, by Pelinka and by president of basketball operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Now, those decisions — as well as a supporting cast of “tough” teammates — have cleared the way for what has always been the ultimate goal.
“We play for one thing in Los Angeles,” Pelinka said with six Larry O’Brien trophies glistening in the backdrop. “We play for NBA titles.”
— Klutch Sports Group (@KlutchSports) July 10, 2018
To the tough teammates point, Pelinka understood why many would object to the Lakers’ signings of Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee. They are atypical pieces, especially as they relate to rosters James has played with in years past.
Still, Pelinka said there was a distinct strategy to the decisions. The strategy involved a hint at the “guys up north,” as Pelinka called the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
“Earvin and I had a conversation, and LeBron echoed this sentiment: to try and outplay the Warriors at their own game is a trap,” Pelinka said. “So, that’s why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth.”
This past year’s Cleveland Cavaliers team did not have loads of toughness or depth. This was one of the reasons James chose to sign with the Lakers — which brings us back to “The Alchemist.”
During the 2018 NBA playoffs, LeBron James carried the book around with him. Pelinka could relate. Five-time NBA champion and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant gifted Pelinka the book around the time Pelinka accepted the job as general manager of the Lakers.
“He said ‘hey, you’re going to go on an interesting journey there,’” Pelinka recalled Bryant saying. “Why don’t you read it?”
So he did.
And back then, he was drawn to a particular quote in the book: “But the young boy was able to understand one thing: Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”
The decisions Pelinka and Johnson have made since taking their jobs as general manager and president of basketball operations, respectively, have led to this day. The two began under the command of Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss. Immediately, they were faced with a tough task. The Lakers did not have much cap space. They did not have many draft picks.
“[Earvin and I] looked at each other and said: ‘We’ve got to make something work out of this,’” Pelinka said. “We have to start playing chess.”
They traded players to create cap space and compiled draft picks that turned into players like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram. In weighing his options, James was fascinated with the Lakers’ youth, according to Pelinka.
“I keep thinking it’s going to add fuel to his rocket pack,” Pelinka said.
James, who has already been posting videos post-vacation of his morning workouts, remains motivated. Days ago, Pelinka drove to meet James and agent Rich Paul to sign the contract. Even then, he was struck by the speed at which James was jumping back into things.
“Every moment that you are around someone of his accomplishments is impactful,” Pelinka said. “It was all business. It was, ‘Hey, we’re the Lakers now. We don’t celebrate roster additions. We celebrate one thing.’ ”
Oh yes, NBA championships.
Pelinka referenced them often in his nearly 30-minute press conference. At its conclusion, he expressed gratitude for the events that have taken shape and said, “Soli Deo Gloria,” a Latin term for “Glory to God alone.” He then picked up “The Alchemist” and walked into the backdrop.
His eyes were set on the trophies.
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