Storyline: Lakers Front Office

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After parting ways with superstar teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant had a Lakers team to call his own, but he eventually grew frustrated with the lack of talent around him. In 2007, Bryant requested a trade from the only team that he had ever known, and for a time it looked as though the Lakers were going to appease him. That’s when owner Dr. Jerry Buss, legendary in his own right, sent a telegram that caused Bryant to change his mind and decide to stay in Los Angeles.

Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s former agent who is now the Lakers General Manager, relayed the story at an ESPNLA event. According to Pelinka, who still has the telegram, it read: “Kobe, as you make this decision, never bet against me winning championships.” According to Pelinka, Bryant read the note from Buss, who was out of town on vacation, and knew that he simply couldn’t leave the Lakers. Over the years Buss had proven that he could build championship-level teams, and if Bryant wanted to win, there was simply no better place to be.

The league also said it had previously warned the Lakers after Johnson joked with Jimmy Kimmel on the late-night host’s talk show about what communication he is allowed to have with George if they would see each other in the offseason. “This is just on a late-night show being funny,” Johnson said after touring a donation facility he helped organize with West Angeles Church to benefit victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. “But now I know I can’t do that. We’re OK. I haven’t thought twice about it. We made a mistake. … It’s under my watch. I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
3 weeks ago via ESPN

The league’s investigation found that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, had discussions in which George’s name came up and Pelinka offered a “prohibited expression of interest” to Mintz. The finding comes off a little like a state trooper pulling over a single car for speeding when the flow of traffic is all pushing 80, or the NCAA targeting a specific program for a probe while infractions run rampant among all its competitors in the conference in which it plays. That is to say, if there is a rule in place that can’t be universally enforced, those who do get caught for breaking it end up as almost sympathetic characters in a way.

Magic Johnson recently became the president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. Do you see Magic succeeding in his new role and would you do something like that in the future? Julius Erving: “I think Magic is going to succeed because he’s succeeded at every level and has taken on every challenge that’s put in front of him and channel it. “It’s not the role for me. It’s just not. I had my time in basketball and now I kind of like having the freedom that I have…that role is one that locks you in.”

Here is what Peter Vecsey, who was the first to report on the issue, said about potential punishments (via Patreon): “If deemed guilty, the Lakers’ franchise could be docked multiple draft picks (Timberwolves lost five first-rounders, got two back, but were shut out of draft in 2001, ’02 & ’04), their hierarchy could be suspended for a year or more (like T’Wolf owner Glen Taylor and GM Kevin McHale and a team lawyer for entering into a fraudulent series of contracts with Joe Smith) and fined millions (it cost Wolves $3.5M). The most severe punishment could be forbidding the Lakers to sign George when he’s free next summer.”

Trudell: Let’s be honest, you guys had to be pretty happy with your selection while watching Kuzma rip up Las Vegas, with the qualifier that it’s “only Summer League.” When did he first get on your radar from a scouting perspective? Jeanie Buss: He’s been on our radar for a couple years now playing in the Pac-12 at Utah. We got to see them come play at USC and UCLA, as well as (outside of Los Angeles). I personally saw him when he was a freshman, but he didn’t play that much. I – and some of our scouts – saw him again when he started to play more as a sophomore and of course when he excelled as a junior.

Buss: We’ve had our eye on him because he’s multi-positional at the four and the three at that size (6’9’’). He has an ability to pass, shoot the ball, run the floor … good athlete, good understanding of the game. He was always intriguing to us. He just started to shoot the three this past year at Utah, and he didn’t shoot it that well at the beginning of the season. But as the season went on and in conference play he started to get more confidence with (the three).

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.” The only difference between what teams usually do and this is that a complaint was filed, and the league must investigate. It’s possible that Magic slipped somewhere with an incriminating text or email. After all, he even went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and joked about tampering.

The Lakers have been under investigation by the NBA for tampering allegations since May because of a conversation Magic Johnson had on a television show about then-Indiana All-Star forward Paul George that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing matter. The interview took place in April. Team officials aren’t allowed to make contact with a player or their representatives until the free-agency period opens on July 1.

“(The Celtics are), of course, a little ahead of us,” he said. “Danny (Ainge)’s done a great job, when you think about drafting and (Gordon) Hayward, who is . . . the guy just knows how to play, you know? And you put him in with (Isaiah) Thomas. You put him in with all the rest of the great players that they have. And then I think you’ve got one of the best young coaches in all of basketball in Brad (Stevens), and we feel like we have a great young coach (Luke Walton). “So we got young talent; they have young talent. They’ve got a little bit more with (Al) Horford and Hayward, the veterans who are stars, especially Hayward. And then hopefully next summer we can add something to our roster. So I think it’s going to come together.

Do the Laker moves at all, do they affect you today?” Jerry West: “Well, what have they done? You know something, every year when people… I love Earvin Johnson, OK? I love him. I will admire him forever. But just because people do things doesn’t always make it right. How many times has the first player failed in the draft? Three times. Everyone gets excited about the draft. I’m excited even though the Clippers don’t have a draft pick at this point in time. Laker fans should be excited about it, they should be. But there’s so much more to this than meets the eye.

She got married once, for three years, in the 1990s, and doesn’t think she’ll do it again. She likes children and would have liked to have some but felt that would have required multitasking she didn’t feel equipped to do. “For me, the burning desire has always been about building what my family had,” said Buss, now 55. “Making it better and keeping it healthy and strong. That’s a motivating factor for me in my life. I’m in the right place for me. I haven’t always made the right decisions, but everything has been consistent about the choices that I’ve made. That part is easy.”

Johnny maintains that his intention was never to usurp his sister’s authority. He says he worried that Johnson would spend too much in pursuit of a championship. He says he and his brother were aiming for a majority on the board to get control of the budget, but insists he did not know about the effort to elect a board without Jeanie. “I immediately apologized to Jeanie saying, ‘Hey, look. This is not what I wanted. Please don’t include me in this,’” Johnny said. “Jeanie did not accept my apology. Decided to publicly string me up and you know, it was sad.” A source close to the Buss family who was not authorized to speak publicly denied that Johnny had ever apologized and insisted that the conflict only became public because of actions taken by Jim and Johnny.

Here are Riley’s views on different subjects courtesy ESPN’s Arash Markazi’s twitter feed: On what will happen when they are talking about making a trade with each other: “It depends on who calls who first. If I call him first then he ain’t going to say anything. If he calls me first I’m going to say, ‘I know that I can make your team better. .. Let’s have a conversation, let’s forget about the cap ramifications and start talking player personal. … I got a treasure of players. ..’”

But the Lakers have not reached out to West, preferring to have Magic Johnson serve as president of basketball operations and Rob Pelinka as general manager. Mitch Kupchak was relieved of his duties as the GM and Jim Buss was let go from his job as executive vice president of basketball operations in February by principal owner Jeanie Buss.

West still has a fondness for the Lakers and would like to be back with them in some capacity. “Sometimes I thought that in my life that maybe that might be something that I can revisit, or they would want me to revisit,” West said. “But that didn’t happen. At times, I don’t say I was disappointed, but it kind of sent me a message that they wanted to go elsewhere, which is fine. But to say that I wouldn’t have liked to ended my career there, that wouldn’t necessarily be true either.”

Since that fateful day, Stern has said many times he rejected the trade in his capacity as acting owner of the Hornets (the NBA owned the team at the time), not as commisioner, but during an appearance on the “Nunyo and Company” podcast, Stern revealed some new information: The Lakers still could have potentially completed a deal for Paul (emphasis mine). “(My decision) was only based on what was good for New Orleans, or what was not good for New Orleans. It had nothing to do with the Lakers at all. And in fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kyle Lowry; and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first round draft pick. Not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchack at the time panicked, and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then New Orleans Hornets.

Magic was asked if had talked with Riley. “Oh yeah, I talked to Pat,” he said. “Going to see Pat in a week.” Magic went on to say that not only are Golden State and Cleveland the two best teams in the NBA but they also are “the two best conditioned teams. Look at LeBron, oh my goodness, this guy is not slowing down because he’s in world class shape. And that whole team is in great condition. Look at Golden State, the way they move the ball and the way they keep moving coming off screens. … you got to be in world class shape to do that and I think we have to get in world class shape to be able to get better.”

In a 23-minute conversation, Magic dropped the phrase “world class” shape five times when talking about the demands he will make on the Lakers in 2017-18. Riley used the phrase four times last month when he met with the media and coach Erik Spoelstra said it five times. “We had too much body fat on everybody so we want everybody to drop that body fat, get into world class shape,” Magic said. “Those who don’t come in world class shape are not going to be playing. … Get into shape or find a new home.”

Scott said he “felt betrayed, lied to and deceived” by former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and former executive Jim Buss. Though he had only two guaranteed years on his four-year contract, Scott contends that Kupchak and Jim Buss previously promised him they would exercise the team option for his third year. Scott also believes the Lakers used him to manage Bryant during his final seasons and farewell tour before making the coach a scapegoat for the franchise’s struggles. “If I asked him to do certain things, Kobe would do it because of his respect for me,” said Scott, who mentored Bryant during his rookie season in 1996-97. “Basically, you just wanted me there to help you guys get through the next two years, so Kobe doesn’t go crazy on you guys. I would be the one that can handle it. They know me. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be intimidated by anybody.”

Scott said he “felt betrayed, lied to and deceived” by former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and former executive Jim Buss. Though he had only two guaranteed years on his four-year contract, Scott contends that Kupchak and Jim Buss previously promised him they would exercise the team option for his third year. Scott also believes the Lakers used him to manage Bryant during his final seasons and farewell tour before making the coach a scapegoat for the franchise’s struggles.

Johnson had more of an optimistic edge about Bryant’s involvement with the Lakers’ future in a recent interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio, saying he will turn to the five-time champion to point out any blind spots and that there’s a plan in the works to incorporate Bryant more fluidly. “Kobe wants to be a part of it,” Johnson said. “He wants to be involved, and I told him any kind of way he wants to be involved. We don’t want him to come into work every day, no. We just want his expertise and to pick his brain. And also, to show me or tell me what’s missing. So then I can say, ‘OK, hey, maybe I missed that. I’m going to jump on that.’ He’s got great ideas, so we’re going to implement a plan where we can have him involved.”

Once it became clear that no team had leapfrogged the Lakers on Tuesday night — guaranteeing that the Lakers would keep the pick, which would have been sent to Philadelphia if it had fallen out of the top three — the first stages of a Ball-Laker union were underway. That union could yet be derailed by goings-on between now and draft day, including the potential for a Lakers trade. But for now, this pairing carries the odor of inevitability. In fact, some executives around the league have been concerned about their ability to get Ball in for a workout between now and the draft in June. With the Lakers keeping their pick, front offices with the potential to land in the top three have been bracing themselves for the possibility that Ball will simply refuse to work out for any team other than the Lakers.

The Lakers’ wave of sea changes in their basketball operations department included Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached the Lakers 43 games into the 2004-05 season before abruptly resigning and serving as a consultant for the Lakers in various capacities in subsequent years. A Lakers spokesperson attributed Tomjanovich’s departure to “part of the reorganization of basketball operations,” which took place shortly after the 2016-17 season ended in mid-April. Last season, Tomjanovich served as a consultant and scout for the Lakers’ basketball analytics department. Tomjanovich’s son, Trey, also is not part of the staff after serving as a consultant and helping with statistical analysis in the basketball analytics department.
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September 25, 2017 | 5:54 pm EDT Update