TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
Rob Pelinka is taking on a challenge few can truly understand.
The new general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers has now officially left the player-representation side of sports life for a front office, following the likes of Arn Tellem, Bob Myers, Neil Olshey, Justin Zanik, and Lon Babby — all of whom either were big-time agents or worked directly with agencies to help players get the coveted NBA paydays.
So for Pelinka, the ultimate role reversal awaits.
After spending the better part of two decades working for players as one of the game’s premier agents, trying to extract every possible dollar he could from general managers, he’s now moving from one side of the conference-room table to the other.
“It’s a big transition,” Tellem said, “when you go to the other side.”
Tellem would know, better than most. He’s vice chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment, the No. 2 role in the Pistons organization behind only owner Tom Gores. Tellem was one of the highest-powered agents in sports — more than 500 athletes were his clients at one time — before moving to the Pistons. And Pelinka spent years as his right-hand man, a protege of sorts.
When the news came last month that Pelinka was headed to the Lakers, Tellem sent him a congratulatory text. He believes Pelinka will succeed.
“Rob is the type of person that’s thoughtful and smart and patient,” Tellem said. “He has all the right personal qualities. I know he’ll make it work. Having the relationship with players helps because he understands it. He can put himself in their shoes, which not many can, and understand where they’re coming from. And I think it’ll be a great source of help to him as he tries to deal with them from the management perspective now.”
Myers was also an agent under Tellem, and has had huge success as general manager in Golden State. Olshey worked in concert with Tellem’s company on the player-development side, and is now the GM in Portland. Babby was once a big-time agent as well, before leaving that life to spend five years as president of the Phoenix Suns. Zanik, a one-time agent, is now assistant GM in Milwaukee. Current Minnesota assistant GM Noah Croom spent more than a decade in the agent world.
And now it’s Pelinka’s turn.
“No one knows the business of basketball more,” said retired Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who was Pelinka’s most notable client.
Those who know Pelinka are certain he will not feel overwhelmed, even by working with Magic Johnson to reload one of the game’s storied franchises. He’s been linked to big-time basketball for decades, first as a player for Michigan during the Wolverines’ “Fab Five” era.
“I think Pelinka’s going to do a wonderful job,” Pelinka’s Michigan teammate, 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame finalist and current Turner Sports analyst Chris Webber said. “I knew this was just another step for him. When we played at Michigan, he was only in two places — he was only in the gym or at the library. Since we’ve known him, he’s always been the most prepared individual, and thoughtful as well. He’s a really good man.”
That being said, some growing pains likely await.
Babby said it didn’t take him long to realize that the level of responsibility when helping run a team is much broader than what’s the case when representing just an individual. Myers once said he felt going through the process of selecting a player for a team instead of representing one made everything feel like it had been flipped “upside down.” Tellem even acknowledged that he wasn’t really prepared for the enormity of his job with the Pistons.
But all Pelinka needs, Tellem said, is time.
“Having Magic Johnson is a huge asset to him because of his relationships and his ability to speak to anybody and just great basketball vision,” Tellem said. “So I think there’ll be a perfect partnership. And Rob’s strength is he’s really smart. He has incredible judgment. He’s very analytical. He’s a great people person and I know he’ll do just a fantastic job for the Lakers.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)