Storyline: Lakers Front Office

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The Lakers recently picked up your team option for the 2018-19 season. How have you seen the organization improve since you’ve been here? Larry Nance, Jr.: My first year was Kobe [Bryant]’s last, so that was a blast. Regardless of our record, getting to spend a full year with him and go along for that ride was an incredible experience. Then last year, we saw a change in coaching staff, so that came with its own different challenges and lost a couple more teammates. Since Magic [Johnson] and Rob [Pelinka] have taken over, the culture is changing. We’re shifting into a win-first mindset and if you’re not part of that mindset, then you’re out. I think we’re really heading towards and getting there quickly to a winning culture.

The Lakers signed Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) last summer to contracts that have become significant impediments to Los Angeles’ ability to upgrade its roster. The Lakers had to include D’Angelo Russell to dump Mozgov, and now they’re trying to unload Deng – which will also surely require massive sweeteners. What were they thinking?

“The thing we talk about is our mentality,” Pelinka said last week. “The way that Magic and Kobe brought it every night, those guys guide us in terms of the mentality, the way we want to play in every game — compete hard and play the right way. That’s probably the word that’s guiding us right now.” After barely hanging on to beat the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Sunday night — the Lakers blew a 22-point third-quarter lead — L.A. is .500. In the big picture, no great shakes, to be sure. But for a team that’s won 27, 21, 17 and 26 games the last four seasons, 5-5 is significant progress.

Bryant, who gave an informal backstage pep talk to the fighters, can’t stick around for the card. He said he was in a rush to get home to his three daughters, the oldest of which, Gianna, has flashed some of the same basketball skills as her dad. Bryant has said he has no interest in a Lakers’ front office role and is content to keep his scouting reports within the family. “I coach my daughter’s sixth grade team. That’s the extent of it all,” Bryant said. “She’s a beast. She’s tough. She’s a little firecracker, man.”

Ultimately that cost Buss and Kupchak their jobs and in an appearance on The Woj Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Kupchak admitted that they may have placed some unrealistic expectations on their rebuild: “I think as a group, the two of us, Jimmy and myself, we imposed maybe some unrealistic guidelines as to when the team can be competitive and how quickly we can do it. I think in today’s world it takes more time under the existing collective bargaining agreement with 30 very, very competitive teams and 30 competitive teams and I felt we were on our way with young talented players.”

Lakers Nation: Former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak discussed the possible reasons he was fired: “Why did it happen (us getting fired) when it did? I’m not sure. It was a week before the trade deadline. Maybe they just felt, and I haven’t spoken to anybody since, so I don’t know what their thought process was so I’m really clearly just speculating, maybe they just said ‘well, if we’re going to make a change at the end of the year, then why don’t we do it now so we can control how the trade deadline goes.’ That’s the only thing I can think of.”
2 months ago via ESPN

“No, I am not going to monitor LaVar,” Johnson said when asked whether he has to have a regular dialogue with the elder Ball given his visibility and outspoken personality. “My job, I got 15 dudes I have to monitor and that’s it, and who I am going to monitor. LaVar is a grown man. He is a great father. I wish you guys could see him with his wife [Tina, who suffered a stroke in February]. This man, he brought her last week, helping her and getting her to be stronger and walk better. I saw the same thing at his home.

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 months 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.
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November 22, 2017 | 11:26 am EST Update
After being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason, Paul George spent time watching tape of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook playing together, trying to get a feel for where Westbrook could set him up best, or how he should move without the ball. “I think just trying to get out ahead of him as much as possible, I think, is key,” George said. “That way, when he’s making plays in full court, I’m already in position ready to receive the ball instead of catching up, getting my feet ready, trying to decide what to do. I’m ready to shoot or attack at that point.”
6 mins ago via ESPN
Whether this trio works out, the Thunder’s front office put a plan in place in July 2016 to answer one simple question: How do they go from the middle back to the upper tier again, without bottoming out? They identified stars to pair with Westbrook, the more available the better, and George was as the top of the list. “He’s done an amazing job. He’s done a great job ever since I’ve been here,” Russell Westbrook said of Thunder GM Sam Presti. “He’s finding ways to constantly keep making us a better team. You know … you definitely are very, very thankful to have somebody like that in charge of making those decisions.”
6 mins ago via ESPN
Storyline: Thunder Front Office
The Los Angeles Lakers played terribly for nearly three quarters in Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Bulls. Luckily, they were able to mount a huge comeback and head coach Luke Walton believed two people were responsible for turning the tide: Julius Randle and Josh Hart. “We had to find people to spark us. Once we got sparked, our guys did a great job,” Walton said. “Julius was a big part of that, Josh Hart was a big part of that. As far as changing our aggression and energy level. In the second half we played at a much better level of pace and control of the game.” I think it took Julius and Josh getting put in the game, two of our tougher players, to really spark the energy and effort level. Once we got it, we didn’t turn it off.”