Lakers News: Rob Pelinka’s Rumored Replacement Confirms LeBron James’ Grasp on LA

The Los Angeles Lakers are dealing with many issues, resulting in a 27-34 record that has them desperately clinging on to a playoff spot. But there is a much larger issue on the horizon — a power struggle between LA’s tight-knit front office and LeBron James.

From a basketball perspective, James has been worth LA’s long-term investment. Though throughout his fourth year in Hollywood, rumored rifts between LeBron and the front office have brought the King’s commitment to the franchise into question. The 37-year-old has just one year left on his two-year, $85.6 million extension, which will make him an unrestricted free agent in 2023.

However, there is a way for James and the Lakers to smooth things over. But if it happens, understand the person with the most power in the organization would wear number six for the Purple and Gold.

One major reason the Lakers are a season-worst seven games below .500 is because of a roster that is well-below championship quality. While LeBron deserves blame for his hand in a few of their offseason moves, this season could ultimately cost general manager Rob Pelinka his job.

If that happens, LA might have a replacement in mind. And it’s someone the King and his agent should know very well.

According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, there is “growing speculation” that LA could look to replace Pelinka with Omar Wilkes, the head of basketball operations for Klutch Sports Group. Klutch is the agency founded by Rich Paul, James’ agent and right-hand man.

Wilkes was previously an agent with Octagon until joining Klutch in the summer of 2020. While he has obvious ties to James, Fischer mentions how he would have major appeal to the Lakers as well.

“Wilkes has been described as somewhat of a compromise between that ironclad Lakers family and Klutch’s operation,” Fischer writes. “His father, Jamaal Wilkes, played eight seasons with the franchise and won three championships alongside [Magic] Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jordan Wilkes, Omar’s younger brother, spent six years in the Lakers’ front office before joining the Hornets as a scout in 2019.”

Despite the speculation, the Lakers haven’t approached Wilkes about the position, nor have they given Pelinka any indication his job is in jeopardy. Before his role with LA, the 52-year-old was also an agent, most notably working for the late Kobe Bryant.

A GM from Klutch means a victory for LeBron James

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James talks to his agent Rich Paul on the sidelines.
LeBron James (R) of the Los Angeles Lakers talks to his agent Rich Paul (L) during halftime. | Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

In 2018, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka convinced the King to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to play in Hollywood. Although realistically, James didn’t need much convincing.

Since his first season, LeBron has more or less been able to get away with whatever he wants. He could ask for another star and the Lakers could get him one, mortgaging their youth in order to do it. He could pick and choose the right veterans to fill out the roster, even when they end up doing more harm than good. But it wasn’t until last month’s trade deadline when, for the first time, owner Jeanie Buss and Pelinka told James “No.”

Right now, it may seem like the Lakers have the power back. But LeBron is in full control of the franchise, and his grasp will tighten even further if a Klutch employee becomes the new general manager.

LeBron came to LA when the Lakers were desperate. Four years later, they’re desperate to put this awful season behind them and add an 18th banner to the rafters. So in their mind, why not do what LeBron says if he provides the best hope to get them there?

The four-time MVP is planting seeds of doubt about his long-term future in SoCal. James spent All-Star weekend discussing his ultimate goal to play with his son Bronny, leaving the Lakers under the impression he’s on the way out. Family comes above everything, but it’s also a swift departure from his previous statement about wanting to retire as a Laker.

It’s not a full-fledged threat … but it’s basically a threat. LeBron can continue to talk about his future taking place anywhere except LA. He can continue to fight with Pelinka when it comes to what’s best for the roster.

Or, the Lakers can hire Wilkes and have a happy LeBron. He’ll leave the choice to them.

With Wilkes in charge, LeBron and the Lakers would become Klutch City, USA

If Pelinka gets the ax and Wilkes (or anyone from Klutch) gets the job, LeBron would have a seat at the table for any and all of LA’s roster decisions. If that’s the case, there are names who should immediately be linked to the Purple and Gold.

Aside from James, Klutch’s most popular client is Anthony Davis. Not only would it mean Davis also has a say in the direction of the franchise, but it would likely guarantee his future in LA.

Across the league, however, Paul and his team represent a growing list of players. If the Lakers manage to find a taker for Russell Westbrook and create enough cap room, they could look to pursue free agent Zach LaVine from the Chicago Bulls. Portland Trail Blazers center Jusef Nurkic and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton are two other players available on the open market this summer.

OK, none of those three seem destined for LA, no matter how bad James might want them there. But there are other Klutch players available in either a trade or free agency according to Real GM, including Terrence Ross, Darius Bazley, Troy Brown Jr., Cory Joseph, and Trey Lyles. Realistically, the Lakers could pursue any of them to fill out a bench that will be overhauled regardless of who is the GM.

For what it’s worth, we’ve already seen the Lakers’ propensity to target Klutch clients. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Ben McLemore, Kendrick Nunn, J.R. Smith, and Dion Waiters are all Klutch players who inked at least one contract with LA during the LeBron years.

We’re now in a new era where players and agencies have more power than ever before. LeBron is the greatest example, but he’ll be far from the last.

All contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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