Mike Bresnahan: Two weeks ago, Magic said he wanted to hire someone "smarter than him." He just said Pelinka is "teaching me the CBA right now as we speak."
Tania Ganguli: Rob Pelinka charted out potential free agents for the next 5 years, Johnson says. Who would be available, how much they could make.
Tania Ganguli: "We have to get better talent for Luke to coach," Pelinka says. Adds they'll do that while developing young guys. Mentions 3 lottery guys.
Mark Medina: Rob Pelinka said he has "absolutely" talked to Kobe about having possible involvement. Pelinka: "He's 100% behind everything Laker"
At one point, he fielded a call from Kings general manager Vlade Divac inquiring about the Lakers' interest in All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. Johnson told his former teammate that, as a consultant, he wasn't empowered to answer that kind of question, and he referred Divac to Kupchak. But Johnson never heard another word from the front office, even when the Lakers engaged in discussions with the Kings on Feb. 19.
Divac, who sources say believed he had a very narrow window to trade Cousins before ownership changed its mind, wanted to act quickly and knew he had ownership approval for trades involving the Pelicans' Buddy Hield and the Lakers' Brandon Ingram.
By the time the Lakers got involved, Divac and Pelicans general manager Dell Demps, both in New Orleans for the All-Star Game, had met four or five times in person to discuss a deal, sources told ESPN's Marc Stein. He was negotiating over the phone with Jim Buss and Kupchak -- despite the fact that Johnson was in New Orleans that weekend for ESPN. Jeanie Buss had previously instructed Kupchak and her brother that she was to be consulted if they discussed trades involving any of the Lakers' three recent lottery picks. The only word she got of the Lakers discussions with the Kings --which involved two of those three lottery picks -- came after Jim Buss called Jesse Buss and pressed him for a recommendation on an offer he said would quickly expire. Jesse Buss tried to text Jeanie Buss, but the deadline was fast approaching. Not long after, before Jeanie Buss or Johnson even knew about the Lakers' attempts, the Kings finalized the deal with the Pelicans.
When the Lakers worked out Larry Sanders, a free-agent big man with a history of depression and substance-abuse issues, Johnson wasn't informed or consulted. Jim Buss had scheduled a meeting with Johnson and Kupchak for the Monday after the All-Star Game, but it seemed that would be the first time Johnson would really get to talk to them about strategy. As far as Jeanie Buss was concerned, it was already too late.
Bryant is too fresh off his playing career and deep into his business pursuits. But it's worth noting that he met with Buss and Rambis in February to give his opinion on the state of the franchise. He also advocated for Pelinka, his former agent, who will take over as the Lakers general manager. That left Johnson, who was probably Buss' first choice, anyway. He reached out to check on her after the announcement that her engagement to Jackson was off. They planned to have dinner, and the rest happened quickly. When you've been operating without trust for so long, it makes the desire for it even stronger -- and there are few people in the world whom Buss trusts more than Johnson.
“She’s got by far the strongest side of the argument,” the person said. “She needs to press her advantage, clarify this and get it out of the way. “Ultimately, it comes down to money. If somebody wanted to buy the brothers out, I’m sure there’s a price.”
A person with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition they not be identified said the tension between the siblings has been building since last fall. The person said scenarios including buying out the brothers’ stakes in the team or borrowing money on their behalf were discussed before the matter became public.
The person with direct knowledge of the situation called the $25-million distribution “highly unusual.” Among the other action items: amending the bylaws to indemnify directors and barring the controlling owner and others from purging emails.
“I am beyond grateful to join the Lakers front office,” said Pelinka. “The Lakers are a gold standard for sports franchises in the world, so we all share a responsibility to pursue excellence in everything we do. Excellence is what the Lakers stands for, what Jeanie Buss and Earvin Johnson embody, and what Coach Walton demands from our players. That obsession for greatness is what will bring Lakers basketball back to a championship level. With Jeanie and Magic guiding the vision, I am thrilled to help architect the future. I am really excited to get to work.”
“We have worked closely with Rob for many years and have first-hand experience with his knowledge of the league and the business of basketball,” said Buss. “In our recent discussions, it was clear that he also shares our goal of returning the Lakers to being an elite NBA franchise. Together with Earvin and Coach Walton, I believe we are in a great position to bring winning basketball back to the Lakers.”
“Rob’s knowledge of the NBA landscape and the CBA, as well as his relationships with GMs around the league, are invaluable,” said Johnson. “After running a successful sports agency and as someone who truly understands the inner workings of salary caps and player negotiations, he will bring the additional skills and experience needed in the Lakers executive office. Rob is a winner and the Lakers are fortunate to have him.”
Ramona Shelburne: A group of Lakers fans have started a website to support @Jeanie Buss called "We're With Jeanie" werewithjeanie.com
Johnson beat Bird to it. The phone call lasted less than five minutes, consisted mostly of small talk and might have touched only briefly on the fate of Indiana star Paul George. “I wasn’t motivated to move Paul George at the deadline,” Bird said. “I can’t remember if it was even brought up or not. I don’t think it was. It’s all fake news anyway. You know that. Somebody’s gonna start it and [it] just was a snowball effect. [The phone call] was not about Paul George.”
His advice for Johnson is to understand that. “You can put a team together, what you think’s gonna be a pretty solid team on paper, and then when they get out there they don’t mesh well,” Bird said. “I’m sort of going through that this year. We thought we had a decent team that we thought could compete for the fourth or fifth seed. We haven’t played as well as I thought we would all year. That’s the growing pains. That’s the frustration about it.”
“I’ve been here for, I don’t know how many years, 12, 13, and I haven’t made a deal with Danny Ainge yet,” Bird said. “That should tell you something. I’ve always been closer with Danny, because I played with him for all them years, than Earvin. “Talked to Danny about a lot of trades, but never did one. I just feel it’s gotta be a fair deal for both sides and we never got there. Maybe he thought it was fair, but I didn’t think so.”
Submitting as evidence his own appointment to the Lakers’ coaching job in 1981, or half a lifetime ago, Riley said Magic’s skin color wasn’t the point. At least not the main one. “Welcome to the new seat, whichever seat you just got to sit down in, and to an immediate reaction on both sides of the fence,” he told The Vertical. “With me, it wasn’t as public. There was no internet for it to get picked up on but I heard it within the coaching profession: ‘He didn’t coach in high school, didn’t coach in college, wasn’t prepared. How could he get the most prestigious job in the NBA?’ ” Riley allowed the implicit recognition of the four Showtime championships that followed to marinate for a moment before adding, in a firmer tone: “To adamantly say Earvin is not qualified is nonsense. Like Jerry West, he’s a prodigal son of the Lakers.”
“That’s what happened with the Lakers. Dr. Buss hired West, who established a culture that brought 20 years of winning. West wasn’t afraid to bring in Phil Jackson, but then West left, Phil left, Phil came back, left again, wrote a book criticizing everyone.” In other words, the Lakers began to operate more like the Knicks. When Jerry Buss died in 2013, that left the franchise to the relatively faceless, feeble leadership of his son, Jim. Now Jeanie Buss has won, at least temporarily, an ownership power struggle with her brothers, Jim and Johnny, and she chose Magic. “To me, it’s a no-brainer that Earvin was given that position to capture the attention of the people in L.A. and to try to recapture that sense of continuity,” Riley said.
Among the many things Luke Walton has going for him with this Lakers job, there’s this: he actually talks with Jeanie Buss. Every so often, the 36-year-old coach will pop in to those corner offices at the team’s El Segundo practice facility where Jeanie and her longtime friend, Linda Rambis, work. Walton is nothing if not personable, not to mention savvy, and so the occasional chat with the team president and governor about the state of affairs is something he can certainly handle.
Not that Laker fans should be overly alarmed at the news that Jeanie Buss had to go to court to try to block her brothers, Jim and John, from trying to oust her as head of the franchise. No matter what a judge decides in any future proceeding, Laker fans — and thus, Time Warner execs — will not stand for Jimmy and Johnny, who have never had a real job in their privileged, rich-kid lives, running the franchise. If anyone thinks things have been turbulent, as when fans chanted “We want Phil” at Mike D’Antoni’s debut, that would be like the good old days if Jim and Johnny were ever in charge.
Nevertheless, Jim was far more involved than Johnny, the eldest (he’s 60 to Jim’s 57, Jeanie’s 55 and Janie’s 53) of Jerry’s children with his wife, JoAnn; Joey and Jesse ,whom Jerry had with girlfriend Karem Demel, are 32 and 29, respectively. Johnny raced cars until his father stopped bankrolling him, putting him in charge of the Sparks. The team won two championships in Johnny’s 12 seasons, not that running such a sideshow appeared to appeal to him. He finally tried to get Janie to take over and when she declined, resigned anyway, suggesting it was because they would sell the team. (They didn’t.)
Even if Los Angeles never lands Thomas, the point guard believes the cupboard will not be bare here for long with Magic Johnson now the team’s president of basketball operations. “Some superstar’s going to come here,” Thomas said. “Nah, but it’s good. Magic Johnson is arguably the best Laker ever. So to have him the head of all that and making decisions is a step in the right direction. Everybody respects him. I mean, the Lakers are not going to be, I guess, what they are now forever. He’ll bring some people there.”
Ramona Shelburne: The Lakers have to vote on a board of directors and controlling owner every year. Since 2013 there have been three votes to affirm Jeanie as controlling owner. This years vote has not taken place yet. Last week, the older brothers submitted 4 names for the 3 Buss family spots on the board. The other 2 spots controlled by Phil Anschutz. The names were Jim Buss, Johnny Buss, Dan Beckerman from Anschutz Entertainment Group and Romie Chaudhari. Romie Chaudhari, a property investor who was appointed to the board of Swansea City FC last year, following a boardroom shakeup. None of those names included the Lakers official governor (controlling owner) Jeanie Buss or the Lakers alternate governor, Joey Buss.
Ramona Shelburne: NBA rules state one owner must be designated as a franchise’s controlling owner. Jeanie's lawyer contends the trust states she is the Lakers controlling owner, & therefore, must also always retain a seat on the board. Adam Streisand, Jeanie's lawyer, was also Steve Ballmer's lawyer in the Sterling family trust trial. Jim & Johnny's lawyer Robert Sacks tells ESPN they were never trying oust her as controlling owner. They voted to re-elected her yesterday
Ramona Shelburne: Robert Sacks, lawyer for Jim and Johnny Buss: "Both Jim and Johnny hoped that any issues that might arise would be handled w/in the family. We informed her lawyers orally and in writing that Jim and Johnny fully support Jeanie as the controlling owner of the Lakers. Then inexplicably she then rushed into court saying they’re trying to oust me as the controlling owner. I can tell you, Jim Buss and Johnny Buss, as co-trustees, who vote shares in the Lakers, support Jeanie as the controlling owner. Yesterday both Jim & Johnny Buss signed a formal corporate document that voted trust shares to re-elect Jeanie as controlling owner."
Ramona Shelburne: Long answer: Jim, Johnny and Jeanie are the three trustees for the Buss family trust which owns 66 percent of the Lakers. The older brothers argued they had the votes (2-1) to elect new directors for the team. An emergency meeting was called for March 7. Jeanie's lawyers argued the trust states she's the controlling owner. AND--this is key-- the controlling owner also must be a director. So removing Jeanie Buss as a director would be in violation of the trust's provision that the controlling owner also be a director. Get it?
Ramona Shelburne: This was today. But Jeanie's lawyers pushed for a trial to resolve this once and for all. A trial date has been set for May 15.
“They make a couple good moves, get Dwight (Howard), and it didn’t work out. They were doing the right things ... You have to accept that ‘Ok, we’re not (good), and let’s take baby steps.’ And a lot of times, for New York and Los Angeles, that’s not good enough. “I don’t see (Johnson’s appeal as) being one of the top factors in players deciding whether LA is (for them),” said D’Antoni. “It’s the players they have, the money you’re getting, the role you’re going to have. I see all that way before (the Magic appeal)."
Even with how much he has exerted his influence thus far, Johnson maintained he has his limitations. During the Lakers’ 13th annual All-Access event on Monday at Staples Center, Johnson pledged he would “never interfere” with Lakers coach Luke Walton, “his players and his coaching.” “It’s been really easy. This man is the coach of the Lakers,” Johnson said, pointing to Walton sitting beside him on stage. “I’m not the coach. He is the coach. I sit back and I just watch games, I watch practice. His job is to coach. I may come to him and say, ‘So and so needs to work on this.’ I’ve done that a couple of times. But that’s up to him.”
Pelinka has years of experience sitting on the opposite side of the negotiating table, both battling and collaborating with NBA executives on behalf of his clients. The time spent helping Fisher resolve the 2011 lockout gave him a deeper understanding of the league's complex collective bargaining agreement. "Rob is a master at understanding the CBA. That is the first step of being a quality GM in this league," said former Los Angeles Clippers forward Corey Maggette, now an analyst for Fox Sports. "If he continues to be the person he's always been, a high-character guy, full of integrity and love for the game, he will do fine."
Pelinka helped Bryant get through some of the most difficult years of his career, including the Colorado sexual assault allegations in 2003 (that resulted in a settlement), Bryant's free-agent decision in 2004 and trade demands in 2007. Ultimately, Bryant finished his 20-year career as a Laker and stayed loyal to Pelinka when he branched out to form his own agency. "He truly cared about his guys, as if he was in their shoes," Maggette said. "When things weren't going right for you, he took it hard."
Pelinka has had a long relationship with the Lakers. His role will change, but he won't come in blindly—he's been a power player in the NBA for a long time. "Rob's life as an agent has been to sell people on why he can do the best job for you. A general manager is similar in a lot of ways," said an NBA executive within the Western Conference. "He understands being an agent, understands the cap, and Magic brings the star power and the credibility that not a lot of people can bring."
Johnson on what it was like being involved with trade talks with his old rival and Pacers GM Bird: "We only talked for about two or three minutes about the possibility of a trade, but it was more geared toward later on, not at that moment. It was just saying "Hi, I’m here and we’re looking forward to talking to you later on this summer."
Buss on the latest NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement: "There's 30 teams in the NBA, and I really truly believe that the current CBA and the way the league is set up is that any team at any time can win a championship, and that’s what you really want as a commissioner. You want everybody to have that opportunity. But I think even with an even playing field, there’s something about playing for Lakers fans, Laker nation -- no CBA can make that equal. We have the greatest fans and they can’t take those away from us with the CBA. As long as they continue to do that, I think the Lakers will have an edge and pulling from all our strengths and all our assets, which includes former players, like Magic Johnson, like Kobe Bryant -- those are our strengths."
Johnson on today’s NBA game vs. when he played: "First of all, when I played, it was inside-out, so you pound the ball inside to probably the most dominant player we’ve ever seen in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and then we pounded it to James Worthy, one of the greatest small forwards that’s ever played. And then if [those] two were busy or didn’t want to shoot, then I would go into the post and do my thing. So it was definitely driven by banging the ball down inside. Now, it’s the 3-point line. All the emphasis, even on the fast break -- we’re seeing a lot of teams that would much rather shoot the three than shoot the two. What we’re trying to do, because it’s not just me, I want to make sure that Luke is involved because he has to coach these guys and also what type of offense he’s going to run, those guys have to fit into that offense. What we’re trying to do is make sure that guys want to win. They love to compete and they’re going to love being a Laker. We want guys who want to play for the Lakers, want to play in this town, understand what it means to play for the Laker organization."
Sam Amick on Paul George and the Lakers: I guarantee you he feels a lot better now because Magic is there. The problem they had before, these guys like Russell Westbrook and Paul George who grew up Lakers fans, they would see the purple and gold logo and the Staples Center, then they would see Jim Buss in an arena or on a picture on the Internet and they would just kind of go 'Oh boy.' He just doesn't have a resume.
And the Lakers can feel his presence. “It’s like you’re starting over and trying to impress,” Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell said after L.A.'s 110-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “Everybody has to look over their shoulders once again. It’s like coming to a new team. You try to impress the GMs and the guys in the front office with your play and off the court, the way you handle yourself. It’s just all different.”
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, always a "Laker at heart," believes Los Angeles made the right decision naming Magic Johnson president of basketball operations. "When you get a Hall of Famer and an all-time great and get a chance to step in and run an organization -- I feel bad for Mitch (Kupchak) and Jim (Buss), and you know, that that had to happen, but I like seeing Magic back involved with the Lakers," Lue said Friday afternoon.
And while Lue has his hands full with the Cavaliers, trying to balance rest with a desire to stay atop the Eastern Conference in a quest to repeat, he's hoping the Lakers return to relevance. "That's where I started and they gave me my chance to become an NBA player," Lue said. "Jerry West drafted me and gave me my first chance, you know, win a championship, two championships. I'm always going to be a Laker at heart. That's where it all started, that's where we won. To see them get back on top would be great. They deserve it. They're a great organization. They do everything first class. It's always great to have stars and great teams in LA because the city's unbelievable when you're doing that."
As news broke that the Los Angeles Lakers had not only fired longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak, but also lured power agent Rob Pelinka as his replacement, the ears of player representatives across the country perked up. Pelinka boasts an impressive list of clients—ranging from James Harden to Buddy Hield—and will have to divest his ownership stake in his agency, Landmark Sports, which has sparked a vast number of phone calls from rival agents. “It will be like the wild, wild west,” one rival agent told The Crossover. “It’s like a real life Jerry Maguire,” said another.
A league source also said Pelinka will still collect his allotted fees for the remainder of each player contract he has negotiated. For all player contracts above the minimum salary, agents who negotiate deals are due 4% of the player’s annual salary. For example, through James Harden’s $118 million extension with the Houston Rockets alone, Pelinka will earn $4.72 million through 2020, while also commanding an assured multi-million dollar annual salary from Los Angeles. DraftExpress lists the current and future known guaranteed salary for Pelinka's primary clients at a staggering $363,740,424, equating to over $14.5 million for his services.
Waiters said that he'll remain with Pelinka's Landmark Sports Agency for the foreseeable future, and represented by agent Brandon Rosenthal. Pelinka was Kobe Bryant's longtime agent, an obvious Lakers tie. Some of his other NBA clients include Chris Bosh, James Harden and Eric Gordon. Waiters said Pelinka going to the Lakers in such a capacity was "a dream come true." "He took a big-time job that you really can't turn down," Waiters said.
The Lakers technically have until Thursday’s trade deadline to make any more moves to their roster. But hours after Lakers president Jeanie Buss named him the president of basketball operations, Johnson called the Lakers’ young core “untouchable.” “That’s good to hear, honestly,” second-year guard D’Angelo Russell said. “With everybody getting traded and everything happening, you’re walking around looking over your shoulder because you don’t have a clue what’s going on. Some things you can’t control. So that’s good to hear.”
The Lakers’ coach expressed sympathy over Lakers president Jeanie Buss firing former general manager Mitch Kupchak and demoting her brother, former vice president of player personnel Jim Buss. He spoke to both men on the phone after their ousters, listening as they offered encouraging words about his bright future with the franchise and ability to work with the young roster. “I am very close with Jimmy and Mitch,” said Walton, mindful they hired him last summer. “I really enjoyed working with them.”
Walton said he had no involvement with the Lakers hiring Pelinka, which can’t become official until he completes the divestiture process with his business. Walton sounded fine with the idea after meeting Pelinka casually through players he has represented, including former Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Golden State forward Andre Iguodala and Cleveland forward Channing Frye.
As word got out that new Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson quickly hired a general manager that doesn’t look like the former NBA superstar, there was a collective groan from qualified and aspiring NBA general managers who do. “It’s always done in private and way in advance,” one high-ranking black NBA team executive said. “We got no shot once the news breaks.” Another high-ranking black NBA team executive said: “I was surprised.”
Pelinka represents former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, a future Hall of Famer and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Even in early retirement, Bryant still has major influence on the Lakers. “Los Angeles has always been about hype,” one high-ranking black NBA team executive said. “Kobe obviously had influence in getting Pelinka pushed through the door.” “I heard that this was coming,” another high-ranking black NBA team executive said. “He has a real connection with Kobe.”
Of the eight high-ranking African-American NBA team executives The Undefeated spoke to, none expressed any malicious intent toward Johnson or Pelinka. But they all said they would have at least appreciated an opportunity to interview for the job. All are more than qualified for the position. But many black assistant general managers and other high-level team executives said they have had a hard time getting consideration for any NBA general manager opening. “We just want to compete. Guys with practical basketball experience, that’s what it’s about. Don’t give me anything. We just want to compete,” one high-ranking black NBA team executive said.
“Those opportunities are few and far in-between,” said Newton. “It’s very rare for a final decision-maker to feel comfortable that a person not like them is capable of running their team.” One NBA owner was offended by Newton’s comments and believed such talk wouldn’t help him get back into the league, a source said. “Nothing surprises me in this business,” one high-ranking black NBA team executive said. “Analytic guys getting jobs. Coaches being named executives. Now it’s the agents’ turn. Everyone except the people who have the practical basketball experience are getting shots.”
Baxter Holmes: Statement from ex-Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who was fired from his post Tuesday: "I would like to thank the Buss family for 36 incredible years. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Dr. Buss who brought me here as a player in 1981. I also want to thank every Laker player, coach and staff member with whom I have worked and who supported me through the good times and the very few not so good times. I am most disappointed that I won't have the opportunity to continue to work with Luke [Walton] and watch this young and talented team grow and eventually win in the Laker tradition. Finally, my best wishes to Earvin Johnson and the Laker organization going forward."
The Kupchak extension during that same month was a major point of contention. He had a year remaining on his contract, but Jim had convinced Jeanie that star players might look elsewhere if they sensed instability in the Lakers’ front office. Their father, the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, had always preferred to wait until a contract's end in matters such as these. Still, with Jim pushing, she gave in.
Jeanie’s determination to make the Lakers a superstar destination again is at the heart of this issue. That’s why Magic is running point again, promising to recruit top-tier talent the way Kupchak and Buss couldn’t. That’s why this past weekend was Jeanie’s worst nightmare, an All-Star game in New Orleans taking place without any Lakers players for the first time since 1996 (the pressure rises still considering the 2018 All-Star festivities are in Los Angeles).
The retention of Ryan West is significant, too, as the Lakers director of player personnel and son of Lakers legend Jerry West was seen as an underutilized member of their front office team and will likely have much more influence in the future.
Ramona Shelburne: There's been questions around the league of who to call with the Lakers in advance of Thursday's trade deadline. It's unequivocally Magic. Magic is the person who made the trade with Houston for Lou Williams. He's the person working the phones.
After sweeping changes to install Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations, the Los Angeles Lakers have hired prominent player agent Rob Pelinka as general manager, league sources told The Vertical. Pelinka was the longtime agent for Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who was a strong advocate of the hiring of Johnson to owner Jeanie Buss, league sources said.
Pelinka will be the day-to-day executive running the organization, engineering trades, and coordinating scouting and the draft. He’ll answer directly to Johnson. Pelinka has played a part in helping teams engineer numerous trades in his role as an agent. In his role recruiting as an agent, Pelinka has been immersed in evaluating the deep 2017 NBA draft class.
May 26, 2022 | 11:51 am EDT Update
The Sixers undoubtedly would love to work out a similar deal with Harden. The question is if Harden will go for it. “This is going to define Daryl,” said the exec. “The trade has not worked out the way he had hoped. If he messes this up and James leaves, where does that leave them? If he overpays him, how do they build a winner? He knew James better than anybody. He knew his lifestyle, he knew where his body was at. He had to have some level of knowledge about where this was going. He loves the guy. He’s loyal to the guy. I get that. But you have to separate from that when making these decisions.”
It’s not that simple. Embiid knows it. “Everybody expected the Houston James Harden,” Embiid said. “That’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a playmaker.” Harden knows it. The rest of the NBA knows it. “The decline is evident,” a rival team executive told SI. “You can see it in his ability to create space, to create the shots he would usually generate. He doesn’t have the burst. People aren’t scared of him driving and scoring. They are challenging that step back more frequently. He’s just not the same player.”
He’s not, but Harden, who will turn 33 this summer, enters the offseason with leverage. He has until June 29 to opt into the final year of his contract, a decision that would guarantee him $47.4 million next season. He could bet on himself, that a healthy summer and a full training camp with Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle will lead to a more productive season. It’s a risk—Harden’s hamstring issues have become chronic, and he could get hurt or his regression could continue—but it’s a stick he could use in negotiations. Because what is Philadelphia going to do? Allowing Harden to opt in and play out his contract makes some business sense. But Harden has effectively quit on two teams when he didn’t like what was happening. Philadelphia, desperate to maximize the MVP-level seasons of Embiid, doesn’t want to be a third.
Morey has routinely referred to Harden as the greatest isolation player in NBA history and believed the chance to play with a dominant scoring big like Embiid—the type of player Morey and Harden talked about but were never able to bring to Houston—would energize him. It didn’t. Harden averaged 21 points per game during the regular season. His field goal percentage (40.2%) and three-point percentage (32.6%) were career lows. His numbers in the playoffs were comparable. For every brilliant game Harden played (a 22-point, 15-assist effort in Game 6 against Toronto, a 31-point outburst in Game 4 against Miami) there were twice as many clunkers. In Philly’s last two games, Harden attempted 22 shots, scored 25 points and had nearly as many turnovers (eight) as assists (13). While ex-Sixer Jimmy Butler carried his team—“I still don’t know why we let him go,” said a still-salty Embiid—Harden was little more than a bystander on his.
The sports media has some trouble conveying the Jeanie Buss saga because to describe it bluntly sounds like a lurch into sexist stereotyping. And yet, behind the scenes, within the league, the Lakers owner is considered a flighty ditz who’s easily led around by more decisive actors. And there are many such actors, this dizzying “we” that Plaschke mentions.
Based on conversations with those in the know, a ranking of the most powerful Laker decision-making officials would be: executive director/special projects Linda Rambis, director of basketball affairs Kurt Rambis, president of business operations Tim Harris (who dated Jeanie Buss long ago) and general manager Rob Pelinka.
A certain amount of dishonesty can work for an agent, but when you’re a GM managing people, it’s chaos incarnate. I’ve spoken with people who’ve worked under Pelinka and they don’t believe that his assurances, public or private, have much bearing on future plans.
The season tickets cessation might not have been the deepest cut here. According to sources, Jerry West’s son Ryan, formerly director of player personnel for the Lakers, was frozen out in his last year with the team, the 2018-19 season, in an act of proxy revenge directed towards his father. What does “frozen out,” mean? Ryan West wouldn’t be involved in any meetings or official operations. He’d show up to the facility and essentially get treated as a ghost, in what was effectively a dare to leave.