Kyle Goon: Magic: "I haven't been this excited in a lon…

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Kyle Goon: Magic Johnson kicks off talking about a pickup game he watched with the Lakers today. He's enjoyed seeing LeBron up close in the gym: "Oh my goodness, it’s something to watch."
MT: What can you tell me about how the Moe Wagner pick came about? Jesse Buss: We’d been tracking him for a couple years now at the University of Michigan, and some of the tournaments he’s played in overseas with his (German) national team commitments. He’s a player that has good size and a very high skill level. His has the ability to shoot, pass and handle the ball at that size (6’9’’), which is solid. He’s a high basketball IQ player with a great motor that really runs the floor well. That’s one thing that was definitely attractive. He had this personality when he came in and worked out for us where he showed a lot of toughness and charisma. That’s something that we definitely value as an organization as a whole. Obviously, (GM) Rob (Pelinka) has a connection with the University of Michigan, and he got as much information as possible about Moe before we made that selection. At summer league, I thought he rebounded better than I expected. I thought he showed a knack for getting down there and banging and rebounding better than he did at Michigan.
MT: Now that LeBron James is a Laker, does Wagner’s skill set stand out a bit more, especially if he’s able to knock down threes as he was at Michigan? Jesse Buss: Yeah, because he’s our only guy that can play the five position that can stretch the floor the way he did in college. He didn’t shoot as well in Summer League, but that was a small sample size, of course. I think that’s a natural fit right there. Obviously, LeBron has had a tremendous amount of success having shooters around him in his career. It just gives us a lot of different options, with a lot of bigs who can do different things.
Jeanie Buss: “I’m constantly trying to get Kobe Bryant to get more involved. He’s got so many other projects that he’s doing. He’s so creative and he’s got so many different things. He knows how much I need him and how much his support means to me. He always has an open door to anything he wants to do with the Lakers.”
Buss: I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.
B/R: LeBron is signed for several years, and the Lakers have this young core. It's early, but can you envision Los Angeles being a place to settle down? Michael Beasley: I've felt like that every year for the last eight years, so I'm going into this situation with the mindset of playing basketball for a year and coming home to Atlanta at the end of the year and whatever happens, happens. I want a long-term contract, two, three, four years, 100 percent. But at this point, I'm tired of getting my hopes up and smashed. But the Lakers organization, from Rob Pelinka to Jeanie Buss to Magic, they've treated us like family. So, they did nothing wrong as to why I feel the way I feel. It's just kinda like a battered-dog situation. I'm gonna take it a day at a time, and hopefully the days don't end.
Yet it’s one thing to not sign with the Lakers, and quite another to not even take a meeting with Magic Johnson and company — or anyone else. "The reason why I didn’t (take a meeting) is that coming down to free agency and before it was about to open (on July 1), I felt really good where I was at," George said. "I felt I was in a good place with Oklahoma. I wanted to come back to LA. That story was true. The narrative on that was true.
Like​ others his​ age,​ Can​ Pelister​ lives with his parents and can’t​ stop listening​ to​ Drake’s latest​ album. He​ likes​​ going to movies, eating out and cheering for the local soccer club. “A typical 20-year-old kid,” Pelister said last week while sitting inside a bustling Istanbul café. He is working his way through a local university, with plans for a degree in sports management. But his job makes that pretty tricky. He is an international scout for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Pelister, whose birthday was just last month, is younger than Lonzo Ball, who will be 21 in October, and two-thirds of the players drafted in June. But if 20-year-olds can be counted on to help NBA teams in the playoffs — Jayson Tatum, anyone? — Pelister has proved they can contribute behind the scenes, as well. Believed to be the youngest full-time scout in the NBA, Pelister will have traveled to 25 different countries by the end of this summer, bouncing from continent to continent to study prospects and draft reports that he sends back around the globe to L.A.
Pelister joined the Lakers in October, after assistant general manager Jesse Buss approached first-year GM Pelinka about bolstering the organization’s international presence. Since 2012, Maceiras has been the team’s lone conduit in Europe. But as the game has flourished overseas, the amount of resources NBA teams devote to scouting outside the U.S. has followed suit.
Laker GM rob Pelinka spelled it out last week, confirming reports that the surprising moves for Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo were Johnson’s choices, not LeBron’s. “Earvin and I had a conversation and LeBron echoed this sentiment,” said Pelinka. “I think to try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap. “No one is going to beat them at their own game so that’s why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth…" It won’t work. If the Lakers just came up with a counter-revolutionary adjustment that contains the shining emblem of an offensive revolution that was years of changing schemes and rules in the making, it will make all else in their storied history look like a bunt.
Of course, that didn't make it easier to fall back asleep the morning of July 1, as James made the choice that would either validate the Lakers' new course or send them back to the whiteboard. "I had friends in town and was hanging with them," Buss said. "But I must have been staring at my phone the entire time." Finally, a few minutes after 5 p.m., she got a one-word text from Paul: "Congratulations." "I'll never forget that moment as long as I live," she said. "This would make my dad really happy. This is something that he would want to accomplish."
James clearly trusts Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka more than he ever trusted Gilbert. The four-year, $154 million deal he agreed to Sunday includes three guaranteed years. The fourth year is a player option, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. The last time he gave Cleveland a three-year commitment was 12 years ago when he was coming off his rookie deal. He even gave the Miami Heat and Pat Riley four years guaranteed in 2010. Despite his willingness to spend, James never trusted Gilbert enough to give the Cavs the same lengthy commitment.
Tania Ganguli: Some non-free agency news. The Lakers are working to find a role for Kurt Rambis in their organization, likely in some sort of front office position or on the coaching staff.
Bill Oram: I think Magic Johnson just set a Jim Buss-esque timeline. He said there are great FA classes each of the next two summers. “If I fail,” he said, “I shouldn’t be in this position.”
Tania Ganguli: “If you’re judging us on one summer, that’s ridiculous,” Magic Johnson said. He adds that if he doesn’t get it done eventually, he’ll step down. “She won’t have to fire me,” he says of Jeanie Buss
Tania Ganguli: Jim Hill asks Magic if he expects the two draft picks to play right away. Magic says: "I better not speak for coach Walton. He handles the playing time. ... But I selected them to play."
Zach Lowe: BTW: the Lakers shouldn't care what anyone in a rival front office/coaching staff thinks of them. They're the Lakers -- one of the great orgs in the history of U.S. sports. They are in LA -- an amazing place. But there has been much eye-rolling in the last couple of weeks.
Bill Oram: Magic Johnson introducing draft picks Moe Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk. "We felt they could add to our team what we were missing," Johnson said.
Mike Trudell: Pelinka was asked about whether there's a sense of urgency heading into free agency: "I’ll feel a sense of urgency until we win a championship. We don’t compete to play games, we compete to win championships."
It​ began with​ an​ innocent and​ rather hopeless DM​ via Twitter. “Jeanie,​ any​ chance you’d talk to​ my Chapman journalism​​ class?” I sent it to Jeanie Buss roughly 2 1/2 years ago, when I was an adjunct professor at the Orange, Calif.-based university, charged with teaching 13 aspiring journalists the art of an arguably artless art. I knew the Los Angeles Lakers CEO and co-owner a little bit, in that a half decade earlier we’d shared a lovely two-hour lunch while I was researching my book, “Showtime.” But were we friends? No. Buddies? No. Confidants? No. Amig— “Sure. When do you want me to come?” Um, really? “Of course. What day of the week is your class?” Wednesday evenings. “I’m there.”
I shrugged, and what followed was … magical. Amazing. Terrific. For the next 90 minutes, Jeanie Buss treated my students as if they were her peers. She spoke at length of her role as a woman in a largely male-dominated profession. She explained the mentality of Kobe Bryant, the joy of Shaq, the PR complications of being in a relationship with the head coach (Phil Jackson), the sleepless nights that accompany losing seasons. She was honest and upfront, and when (as she was trying to leave) an obnoxious and clueless student asked if he could have her personal e-mail, Jeanie somehow smoothly escaped without bruised feelings. In short, it was a master class in kindness and decency.
When I called to ask her about it, Jeanie seemed almost surprised. There are jobs a team owner is responsible for, she insisted. Addressing fans has to be one of them. “Why wouldn’t I respond?” she said. “They’re the ones who make this all possible. I want them to know they matter.” Sure, I said. But what about the angry ones? The ugly ones? The haters? “Well, the first thing I do is look to see their profile,” she said. “Usually, if they love the Celtics or are from Massachusetts, they’re beyond my reach. And that explains the hostility. But if they’re polite, that’s all I can ask for.
Julius Randle on the Lakers not negotiating an extension with him last summer in favor of holding onto their cap space: "I feel like I really had no choice but to separate it [his feelings from the business side of basketball]. I think the extension [had] to be done the day before the season, but I really didn't have a choice. I had to focus on what I could control. I couldn't control not getting that extension or whatever happened throughout the year with coming off the bench. I could just control what I could control. That's just like my preparation, the work that I put in, my focus, my attention, my energy, you know, all those things I could control. I knew that I put in the work, so it was only a matter of time before everything would line up and I just feel like I'm in a better position anyway this summer than if I had worked out an extension last summer. So I guess it's just funny how life works."
Julius Randle on the locker-room dynamic in Los Angeles with the team prioritizing cap space over keeping the team together, and whether not it was weird: "Not weird, I thought it was, I felt like everybody thought it was funny, like it was jokes. Like constantly, nobody ever took any report or anything that was coming out being said seriously. We weren't focused on it, because I think a part of being a player is you realize really quickly that you only have so much you can control. So you can't control being in trade talks, you can't control contract negotiations, you can only control that with your play. And everybody just bought into each other, tried to build something and win games."
As for their experience, Johnson and Pelinka have enjoyed the process of developing relationships with players and the coaching staff. “For me it’s really just learning the players, understanding one through 15, one through 12, their mentality. Watching them in practice, how they practice, how they go about their job,” Johnson explained. “Just talking to them, also to getting a chance to know Luke and the coaching staff. We came in, we didn’t know anybody so we had to get to know everybody. For me, that was the biggest learning curve. Rob brought in knowledge of the (salary) cap and all of those type of things, so we had that covered.”
Despite inexperience in their respective positions, Jeanie hiring the tandem to lead the Lakers front office appeared to be a strong fit on paper, and it’s carried out in reality. “Magic has a keen ability to, just like when he played, in the heat of the battle, in the heat of the moment, he’s running the break and there’s five different options and he’s got to choose one,” Pelinka said. “I like to be the guy that’s bringing the five options to the table. There’s been a harmony and a beauty from the trades we’ve done to the roster decisions we’ve made, it’s been a real joy for me to work side-by-side with him.”
After Kyle Kuzma lit up the 2017 summer league, we sat down with Lakers assistant GM and Director of Scouting Jesse Buss to figure out what L.A. saw in Kuzma that so many other teams hadn’t before drafting him at No. 27 overall. [...] Below is a transcription of our conversation, which also details a turning point in Hart’s season, why he’s more than a three and D guy and how beneficial it is to have him locked into his salary cap number: MT: Did you know about a potential pick trade with Utah earlier that day or did they just call after you took Kuzma? Jesse Buss: We were called immediately after we made the 27th pick, by Utah, and offered No. 30 and No. 42 for No. 28. We had considered a number of guys at that position, and felt there was still some first round talent on the board, and we felt we could potentially get two guys we had ranked in the first round by adding No. 42 since we still had six or seven guys up there. It just so happened that Josh, the guy who was highest on our board, and who we were going to select at 28, was also there at 30. That was a definite plus, and made the trade that much better for us, when we were able to acquire Thomas Bryant at No. 42, who we felt had first round talent.
MT: If I recall, San Antonio picked 29th, so were you sweating a bit not knowing if Utah or the Spurs were going to swoop in and steal Hart from you… Jesse Buss: We really wanted Hart, and it’s funny because Hart seems like a Spurs guy. What you’d imagine with some of the players they’ve had. He would have fit there, but they went a different direction (Derrick White), and we felt ecstatic that Hart was there and could come and do a lot of good things for us right away.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have more flexibility this summer than any other team, enough to sign up to two maximum-salaried players. "There are so many ways we can use that space. We can absorb an expiring contract and get a draft pick out of it," Buss said. "We can acquire a player [through trade] who will help us immediately next season. We can sign big-time guys and be right there and have the future in the palm of our hands."
So far, Buss is encouraged by the new management team. "Rob's leadership style reminds me of how Kobe was as a player," he continued. "I'm trying to perfect my craft, and I bring 100 percent every single day, and I want you to bring the same. ... I'm going to put my trust in you, and as long as I know that I'm able to ride with you along the way and I trust your ability, we're going to work great together. Very Kobesque."
Because Bryant developed a relationship with Jerry Buss, so did Pelinka, and the three power brokers used to meet at the owner’s home in Playa del Rey. But Buss died in 2013, leaving Pelinka to wonder what the Lakers patriarch would make of their current state. “I think there became a comfort in the banners,” Pelinka concluded. “No one saw the progress, the pioneering of new things, which is what we used to be known for. No one was saying, ‘We want to do what the Lakers are doing.’ It was the opposite. It was, ‘No one wants to go there anymore.’ ” He typed a five-page document under the heading “Pillars of Excellence,” blending Buss’s principles with his own.
Channing Frye: “I’m going to say this, I think any superstar would like to play for Luke. I think he’s a players’ coach. I think when you talk about the continuity with the president, owner, GM, a lot of guys are looking for that. I think you’re looking for a culture, I think you’re looking for a guy who’s intense and wants to win now. I think his system is open for learning and growth.”
And if Bryant should wind up talking to an MVP-caliber talent like James or George during their free agency process, his message will extend far beyond the roster. The team’s revamped braintrust, Bryant believes, is the key to their turnaround. “I mean Rob (Pelinka) is one of the smartest guys I've ever met in my life, and he is going to figure this thing out,” Bryant said of Pelinka, who was hired in March 2017 after owner Jeanie Buss fired former Lakers executives Mitch Kupchak and her brother, Jim Buss. “So if you're a player, a marquee player, and your goal and your mission is to win championships, you can't just bet on the current roster, you also have to bet on the management, and you have to bet on the fact that they're going to make smart decisions and get players here that are going to win championships with you. I bet on Rob my whole career, and it's worked out pretty damn well for me, right? I'd make that bet on Rob Pelinka every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
Bill Oram: Would the Lakers consider trading Ball/Ingram/Kuzma/Hart if it meant netting a top-level player? "We're not going to talk about that," Magic Johnson said.
As she told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report on “The Full 48 with Howard Beck,” she is also pleased with how much more of a coherent and committed plan for the future that Pelinka and Johnson seem to have: “I have complete faith in them because everything they do is thoughtful and thorough. What was uncomfortable for me previously, was, we were going through coaches every 18 months. When you have a coach that’s really defensive-minded and you’re building a roster for him, and then let him go, and now you bring in the most offensive coach, he’s going to want a completely different roster. You can’t have that every 18 months, changing coaches and going in all these different directions. Those were the kind of moves that never made sense to me, because I couldn’t get a straight answer. In this environment, I understand their thought process. I understand the work that they’re doing in looking in every corner and trying to figure out what makes sense for us.”
When it comes to differentiating between Lonzo and LaVar Ball, the Los Angeles Lakers are more experience than just about anyone who’s not a blood relative. While fans, media and erstwhile observers still seem to struggle with the concept that the Big Baller Brand CEO’s opinions aren’t necessarily reflective of how his eldest son feels, the team for which Zo plays has made a point of keeping them separate—and would like everyone else to do the same. “I would ask that people judge Lonzo for himself,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said during a recent appearance on ESPN Radio in L.A. “How many people are judged by their family? That doesn’t work out for some people very well.”
According to sources close to the situation, Johnson called an associate of LaVar's and strongly admonished him. Publicly, though, the Lakers said nothing. "Look, we had lost nine in a row and you didn't hear nothing from me, right? I was supporting Luke through all nine in a row," Johnson says. "So now, LaVar comes out and says something, and everybody asks, 'Why didn't you say nothing?'
But it was hard to hold their tongues. According to team sources, the Lakers were angry and disappointed with LaVar Ball over those comments. They felt as though no other franchise would be as accommodating and supportive as they had been, only to be rewarded with a constant disrespect and drama. Or, as one official put it, "He reaches out with one hand and slaps us with the other." Mostly, though, the Lakers were concerned about the effect on Lonzo, who was essentially being asked to choose between his father and his coach. Lonzo tried to split the defense when asked whether he agreed with his dad's assertion that Walton had lost the team, saying he'd "play for anybody."
But they knew where they wanted to draw the line. The Lakers wouldn't allow the Balls' Facebook Watch show, "Ball in the Family," to film games for free, as other NBA teams have. According to sources, AEG (a minority owner of the Lakers, which owns and operates Staples Center) charged the production company that produces the show when they filmed at games. And when Lonzo Ball wanted to buy 20 premier-level tickets to every Lakers home game for his extended family, a source said he was charged $150,000, the same amount as any other customer for those seats.
Bill Oram: I'm told this will be the Lakers only major deal, although there always could be something minor on the back end (like Huertas/Ennis swap last year)

https://twitter.com/laura_nelson/status/960998418012254208
Jeff Zillgitt: Lakers fined again for tampering - $50K this time for comments Magic Johnson made about Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

http://twitter.com/JeffZillgitt/status/960959730708598784
Randle will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Clarkson is owed $25.9 million over the next two seasons. The Lakers have listened to offers or explored trades for both players that included first or second round picks, but sources indicate that none of those deals would save significant cap space for the future, thereby negating the initial reason for exploring trades for those players.
While the Lakers could still move either or both players before Thursday's trade deadline, one league source put the chances of a meaningful trade at "50-50 at best." If the Lakers were to move Clarkson or Randle either now or at the draft, and find a resolution to the $36.8 million remaining on Luol Deng's albatross contract -- likely via the waive-and-stretch provision -- the Lakers could create $60 million in salary cap space in July of 2019. Nevertheless, if the Lakers sit out free agency this summer, they'll try to use their salary cap space to accommodate teams looking to dump bad contracts -- and willing to send draft picks to sweeten the deal, sources said.
"Of course the media stories are going to focus on the biggest free-agent names," Pelinka said. "But that's not the only road. We could use the cap space on superstars. We could use it for one star and some of our own players. Or we could just use it on our own free agents: Julius [Randle], Brook, and KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] are all free agents, and I think we're evaluating all of those things.
The most pleasant surprise about his new job as Lakers general manager, though, is being linked with the other hundred-plus employees in the Lakers' new headquarters. "I love the continuity and team building and all working together for a common purpose," Pelinka said. "When you're an agent, you're really focused on an individual's brand. It's a very supporting endeavor. This has that team feel, collaborating with all the folks around here. That part I love."
For taking on Mozgov's contract, Marks got the considerable upside of Russell's potential, and Pelinka saw it as a nice byproduct that the Lakers were setting Russell up in a good situation. "The overwhelming driving force behind any trade is 100 percent what's best for the Lakers," Pelinka said. "But we're all human. There is a human element through every decision that's made in life.
According to this, from ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, that would not necessarily seem to be the case. "I have been told by multiple sources that Magic Johnson is doing that job the way that I thought Magic Johnson was going to do that job. Sort of whisking in and out of the office. ‘Yeah fire everyone. Trade everyone. You’re doing a bad job. I’m going to run my movie empire.’ Is he still doing that? The details, the specifics of the doing of that job. Magic Johnson has been given all of the power and isn’t doing any of the work that usually gets done. He’s doing the job the way Phil Jackson did the job. He’s pretty mad at (Rob) Pelinka from what I’ve heard."
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September 21, 2021 | 2:49 am EDT Update

D'Angelo Russell looking great in workouts

Who would Wolves staff consider to be early candidates for the most improved player on the roster? 2) Do the Wolves see McKinley Wright IV as a sort of “Pat Bev-in-training”? 3) Will there really be a concerted effort to apply full-court defensive pressure? — @Tresio The two players I have heard a lot of buzz about looking great in workouts: McDaniels and (drum roll, please) … Russell. Sounds like he is locked in right now.

NBA execs expect breakout season from Darius Garland

The 21-year-old guard should thrive in pick-and-roll action with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley as rim rollers, while the addition of Lauri Markkanen, who shot 40.2 percent from downtown last season, will help space the floor and open pick-and-pop opportunities. “I think Garland’s kind of gotten lost in the shuffle in terms of people knowing who he is because of Colin Sexton,” an NBA scout opined. “If he stays healthy, I like picking him.”
I have heard A-Rod and the new ownership is bully on the Wolves. What major moves do you predict they will make to improve the product in the next couple years? — @SPORTSviKINGs17 So far, it appears like the immediate target is just modernizing things, bringing a franchise that has often been at the back of the pack to more of the cutting edge when it comes to technology and innovation — that sort of thing. Of course, the main goal will be to make the Timberwolves more competitive on the floor, but I think there is a real emphasis on everything around the basketball, as well. What can be done to change the perception of the organization? They are taking a long look at culture and values and defining characteristics. Those might seem like mumbo jumbo to dyed-in-the-wool hoop heads, but those are things that Lore and Rodriguez are very familiar with in their other businesses. They can dive in on them right away as they work to get up to speed on the intricacies of basketball, the collective bargaining agreement and the team in general.