Worthy was also asked what's wrong with his former team…

Worthy was also asked what’s wrong with his former team after LeBron James and the high-priced Lakers missed the playoffs two years removed from winning it all. “The Lakers, I think they have refused to build over the years,” Worthy said. “We’ve had some good players: (Brandon) Ingram, (Julius) Randle, (Lonzo) Ball. We have tried to win quickly. In Kobe’s last few years, we brought in (Steve) Nash who was a little bit older, Dwight Howard came in with a back injury. We traded away draft picks to try to win immediately and I think they’re going to have really think about how they need to build.

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"You look at Memphis, you look at the way Boston is playing right now, you look at the way Milwaukee has built a team over time. We need to create players that have cohesiveness. We had it a couple years ago and we traded it all away to try to win, to try to match what Brooklyn was doing and what other teams were doing with their Big Three players. I think that’s going to go away. That’s an illusion, having the Big Three. You see what happened in Brooklyn, you see what happened with the Lakers. Even though everyone experienced injuries, you still should be playing better and you should definitely be in the playoffs. So the Lakers -- it’s embarrassing and it’s unacceptable."
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.
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.
As he mentioned to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the Lakers revoked West’s season tickets, tickets that he said were promised to him by the late Dr. Jerry Buss. According to West, the Lakers didn’t even bother to tell him of the decision. Nobody around the situation believes this to have been a cost-cutting measure. West himself sees it as retribution. Retribution for what, though?
The dynamic between Jeanie Buss and Jerry West has been shaky at least since back when Phil Jackson started dating Jeanie, all the while presiding over the team as coach. West believed the situation to be unprofessional, and beyond that, distrusted Jackson as a cynical actor. According to sources, the West perspective was a protective one: He believed that Phil was using Jeanie, whom he’d known since she was a teenager, for his own power play. Whatever his intent, West’s judgments were not taken well, and have likely informed a separation that only grows more distant with time.
The season tickets cessation might not have been the deepest cut here. According to sources, Jerry West’s son Ryan, formerly a scout 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. Publicly, Pelinka would talk up his involvement with the Lakers. Within the halls, a decision was made to coldly cut ties.
Pelinka is apparently going to have at least one more shot to get it right, as Buss still fully supports Kobe Bryant’s former agent, who she put in place shortly after she fired her brother and Kupchak. “In terms of basketball decisions, I have complete confidence in our front office, which is headed by Rob Pelinka,” she said. “He is a person that is extremely smart, extremely strategic, everything he does is thoughtful and with purpose. … I have complete confidence that he can put together a roster and find a coach that is going to get us back to where we belong.”
She offered strong backing to another embattled Laker basketball exec, Kurt Rambis, who won 28% of his games in four seasons as an NBA coach and whose increased influence has been met with public derision. “I know that there’s been some unfair criticism of Kurt Rambis,” she said. “I want to remind people, he’s been involved in the NBA for close to 40 years, that he has been a part of championship teams both as a player and assistant coach, he is someone I admire for his basketball knowledge.”
She is also getting input from Jackson, a five-time Lakers title coach and her former boyfriend who spends several months a year in Los Angeles. He has become another one of her confidants during this tough stretch. “People see us around town, we have breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever … it’s not anything romantic,” she said. “He’s somebody that knows this environment and knows the challenges I have and wants to see the Lakers successful, so he’s somebody I know doesn’t have any other agenda than for the Lakers to be successful, so he’s somebody that I can lean on.”
And how’s this for a tidbit to tie this thread up: Phil Jackson is known to have been a fan of Westbrook’s throughout his career. Sources say Phil Jackson has no interest in taking on this coaching job (or any other) himself — let’s just stop that rumor right here — but his view of Westbrook is relevant. As we’ve established, Jackson’s voice matters again.
Sources have told The Athletic that Pelinka has two years left on the contract extension that accompanied his promotion to vice president of basketball operations last year. Would Jeanie fire Pelinka, who she views as an extension of Kobe Bryant?
This is a Lakers front office that inspires a deep distrust and frustration in many of its rival front-office executives and agents — a reality that doesn’t bode well for roster improvement in this desperate time. Still, the reluctance remains to address these problems that are common knowledge around the league.
According to a Western Conference source, Magic Johnson left the organization because he couldn’t navigate the dysfunction. And this week Johnson revealed he’d been told by DeMar DeRozan’s agent that his client wanted to play for the Lakers. But, Magic said, LeBron pushed for the far more expensive Westbrook. “Magic knew what he was doing,” the source said. “I’m not sure who else there does.”
The truth? Many of the writers he occasionally castigated would tell you there's no one they'd rather interview, because he dished far more candor than anger. Jason Clarke’s West, furthermore, is violently angry — based on what? The real West was not actually running the Lakers’ front office when he favored Moncrief over Magic and, by most measures, just might have made up for that misread with the moves he did make. As Pearlman ultimately wrote in his book, most importantly, amid an assessment of the two-time NBA Executive of the Year’s many quirks: "People within the Laker organization loved West." Which likely explains why I've heard from a number of former Lakers employees since Sunday night who were so bothered by how West was depicted. Maybe this should be an animated series, one cracked, if The Logo can be made to look this cartoonish.
In terms of the James factor, and the question of whether he has an issue with the Lakers’ power structure that is so often questioned by others, sources close to him continue to insist he does not. But the voices that still matter, as we’ve been reminded of late, don’t stop there. As Jeanie told our Bill Oram recently, she still relies on Johnson in the kind of way that surely impacts her view of this team and the uncertain future ahead. “To me, he’s still working with us,” she said. “In terms of his support, his wisdom, his insight, I freely call on him as needed.”
How does his stated desire to play with his son, Bronny, at the end of his own career come into play? There’s no way of knowing just yet, if only because there are so many unknowns on that front. He’s a junior at Sierra Canyon High in Los Angeles at the moment, one who is ranked 43rd in ESPN’s 2023 recruiting database. Based on current league rules, he’ll be draft-eligible in 2024 (the Lakers have no first-round picks that year, but do have a second-rounder). From Buss’ perspective, sources say her focus is on the macro elements of the partnership with James. His happiness matters a great deal, but so does his trust. Hence the reason you saw such staunch support from Paul in his post-meeting statement.
Sources say Jackson, the Lakers legend and ex-fiancé of Buss, whose presence at Saturday’s win against Golden State was highlighted by the team’s Twitter account, has been in frequent contact with Buss about team matters all season long. The complicated and often uncomfortable dynamics surrounding the Westbrook situation, in particular, are known to have drawn his interest. As unofficial consultants go, they don’t get much more experienced or credible than Jackson. Truth be told, Buss’ desire to hear Jackson’s point of view on this team should surprise no one. Especially because of his close ties with Rambis, who — like Pelinka with Bryant — has the kind of close connection with Jackson that has long been considered a factor when it comes to his own stature.
Sacramento staffers were largely made aware of the Wizards trade when the deal framework was reported publicly, sources said, rather than being informed by Lakers brass. Several rival front offices have indicated Pelinka has lacked when it comes to working with opposing teams. "He wasn't returning some teams calls at [this year's] deadline," one general manager told B/R.  "He was an asshole as an agent," said another assistant general manager. "He had the most powerful players and if he wanted the player moved, he would've eviscerated you as a staff to get whatever he wanted. You can't do that to people, and then expect them to work with you  when you join their side."
James’ agent, Rich Paul, has refuted reports that James is unhappy with the Lakers’ inactivity or Pelinka, but the GMs I spoke to aren’t buying it. "I heard that he was trying to get Sam Presti in there to replace Rob," the second Eastern Conference GM said. "I don’t see that happening, but I could see him trying to get Pelinka out of there."
Asked if he believed the Lakers’ front office could construct a winner around him, James offered support. “Very confident. They’ve done it. They’ve shown me that,” he said of the 2020 NBA title the Lakers won. “Ever since I got here, the front office of Jeanie, Linda [Rambis], Kurt [Rambis], everybody, has welcomed me with open arms and has given me an opportunity to play for a historical franchise and welcomed my family in. And I just try to give back my part of the game and inspire kids and inspire people that want to follow the Lakers and put them back at a level that they’re accustomed to being. And that’s always been my focus.”
That next player was Kobe Bryant. With him soon came a young agent named Rob Pelinka. But for as important as Bryant was to the Lakers, sources inside the organization have long said that not even the legendary Black Mamba wielded as much power within the organization as James now has. Bryant was never able to strong-arm the Lakers to make a move like the one James helped orchestrate for Westbrook, which has proven to be an outright disaster. The Lakers did trade Shaquille O’Neal to placate Kobe before he hit free agency in 2004, but when he was under contract like James is now they did not always give in to his demands.
In the context of the Lakers' drama this season, James' praise of Presti could be seen as a passive-aggressive swipe at Lakers Vice President of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka. According to multiple NBA sources, Klutch is not happy with Pelinka. The sentiment has long percolated, but it reached a boil when Pelinka refused to trade Westbrook and a future first-round pick (likely 2027) for Houston Rockets guard and Klutch client John Wall.
The marriage between the Lakers and James is in a precarious spot. The relationship between Klutch Sports, led by James' agent Rich Paul, and the franchise is at its lowest point. Decisions made in July, August and ahead of the February 10 trade deadline have led to a dysfunctional situation. And it’s becoming increasingly clear the Lakers need to come to terms early with James—August 4, specifically—or part ways. That's when James is eligible for a two-year extension that could max out at $97.1 million through the 2024-25 season.
Rob Pelinka, VP of basketball operations, discarded the remaining core of the title team for Westbrook — leaving almost no escape routes — opted not to counter Chicago’s offer for Alex Caruso and declined to engage with the oft-maligned point guard Dennis Schröder, who, according to league sources, was up for returning to the Lakers as Westbrook’s backup before eventually signing with Boston for the mid-level exception with the Celtics. (Then there’s the deal the Lakers gave to Kendrick Nunn, who has not yet played this season due to a bone bruise in his right knee.)
Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka has remained in regular communication with James and Davis to discuss potential trades as the deadline approaches, sources told ESPN, keeping up the standard operating procedure he's had since Los Angeles acquired the two stars.
The brief breakdown is a veritable synopsis of why West lands at No. 14 on The Athletic’s list of the top 75 players. Yet nearly a half-century after he retired, there’s an unfortunate and unwelcome addendum to his story that he’d like to share: He wishes he could do it all over again — in a different jersey. “One disappointing thing (about my career) is that my relationship with the Lakers is horrible,” West, a Clippers consultant since June 2017, told The Athletic. “I still don’t know why. And at the end of the day, when I look back, I say, ‘Well, maybe I should have played somewhere else instead of with the Lakers, where someone would have at least appreciated how much you give, how much you cared.’”
But those memories of his Lakers past just aren’t the same anymore because of his Lakers present, one where the dynamic between the two old friends, so to speak, has devolved so publicly and painfully in recent years. His frustration, unmistakable even in this loud and crowded room, surfaces in full force approximately 10 minutes into this conversation that lasted nearly 40 minutes. “They’re in complete denial,” he said of the Lakers. “It’s insulting to me that I’m not …” He stops briefly. “I’m not seeking any apologies from no one — no one — ever,” he said. “I just said to myself, ‘How petty can this be?’”
For West, though, the final straw came when the Lakers repealed the lifetime season tickets he said the late Dr. Buss had promised him so many years ago. Without any warning or explanation, his wife, Karen, received a text message from the Lakers last season informing her that the family’s seats for their games would no longer be granted. “It was a cold phone text to my wife,” West recalled. “No one had the nerve to call me, but that’s how petty they are, OK? And I love the Lakers, OK? I love to see them do well. It’s great for basketball. I’m proud of everything that happened when I was there. I’m proud of everything that happened when I wasn’t there — the positives.
“But sometimes you feel like you’re discarded, like a piece of trash. And there’s a couple of people over there — not Jeanie — but there’s a couple of people over there that, uh … I don’t get it. I don’t. … I always had a great relationship with Jeanie — at least I thought I did. I don’t know where it is now.” Just as the retelling of it all starts to rile West up, he stops just short of naming names. Still, as he’s well aware, the Lakers’ circle that surrounds Buss is a small one. A message has been sent. When asked if there was any hope for reconciliation, West shook his head. “No, it’s too late; it’s too late,” he said. “I don’t need to do that, OK? I really don’t need (it). It’s just (bothersome) how people change so much. And I don’t understand it, but it’s fine. It’s fine.”
The Lakers will try to make an impact move before the Feb. 10 trade deadline, but behind the scenes, team sources are managing expectations of what can realistically be done.
Dave McMenamin: Frank Vogel says there’s been nothing abnormal about his level of interaction with the Lakers’ front office as of late. Business as usual. As far as speculation about his job, he says, “I wouldn’t want it any other way.” Shows there is a standard and expectation as LAL coach.
The Lakers recently went 1-5 under acting coach David Fizdale while Vogel was stranded last month in the league's health and safety protocols, then won four in a row after Vogel returned to the bench. A loss at Sacramento and the Denver debacle soon followed, but recent results don't exactly support the notion making the rounds in league coaching circles that Vogel has lost all sway over a roster filled with outsize personalities.
As the vice president of charitable affairs for the Lakers, Kiesha Nix is one of the most powerful women in the sport of philanthropy. When she was first promoted from executive director for the Community Lakers Youth Foundation to her current office, NBA legend Magic Johnson called to congratulate her personally. “I was in the middle of a Zoom call planning a community holiday event when his name showed up on my phone. I almost didn’t take the call,” she says. But she did, and she heard him say, “Hello Miss VP.” “I had to pinch myself,” Nix says. Nix had never actively pursued a career in community relations or fundraising, but the calling seemed to pursue her. She and Johnson had partnered on community events for more than a decade since they first crossed paths when Nix worked for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. “I started out at the bottom of the totem pole almost 30 years ago as a project manager at Merrill Lynch, and by the time I left, I was negotiating contracts on behalf of Bank of America after the two institutions merged.”
Nix developed a reputation of trust, respect and compassion—all critical values for solid leadership. People were talking about her, so when Lakers president Jeannie Buss called Lon Rosen, the executive vice president of the Dodgers, looking for someone to run the Lakers’ foundation, Rosen didn’t hesitate to recommend Nix. “They called me on Monday, and I had a whole new career by Friday,” Nix says. Now, she’s the first Black woman to be named vice president within the Lakers organization. “I often tell young people I mentor that the people that have helped me along the way don’t always look like me. Lon is Jewish,” she says. “He’s a very respected man in sports. He didn't have to recommend me, but he knew my work ethic. Hard work is the great equalizer.”
Are you interested in ever running an N.B.A. franchise again? Magic Johnson: It’s all about the right situation, so if the right situation comes I might think about it. It’s all about timing. It’s all about who that team is. I’m a Laker all day long, so I’m probably going to end up working with Jeanie Buss again, and I’m not laughing. That’s serious. I had offers before to own some of those teams and then I turned those offers down. But again, I love the game so much. I know the game. I know players. I know agents. The great thing about me, I’m set up where I know what works. I know what a winning and championship team looks like. So I know how to talk to the players — you can ask Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball and all those guys, because I’m happy to see them thriving and doing so well, and so just trying to help those guys reach their full potential. That was my role, and then you see them reaching it. So it was really good to see that.
Magic Johnson: The only thing I probably would’ve did was probably talked to LeBron before I stepped down, because I felt that I owed him that, so that’s probably the only mistake I made was not talking to Jeanie and talking to LeBron before I actually did it. So, yes, I would do that different.
“I talked to Rob and Kurt, I thanked them, but I told them, you’re valuing youth more than a locker room presence guy,” Dudley said. “I said, ‘I respect you for doing that, but I think you’re wrong,’” Half the players on the Lakers were recruited there by Dudley. Several younger players were mentored by Dudley. After Kyle Kuzma was traded earlier this month, someone on Twitter asked him to cite his greatest teammate, and he responded, “Duds and it’s not even close.”
Jeanie Buss on the need for stylistic play and why she took over basketball operations from her brother I’m just speaking from my own experience. I think Dr. Buss (her late father, Jerry Buss) kind of really labeled it Showtime, that not only is it great to win, but you have to do it with a sense of style. And, you know, kind of create something that you stand for, and then kind of build the pieces around that. Stay true to the brand that you’re trying to create…that was what my challenge was with the Lakers, that we had a steady level of success. But when my brother was running the basketball operations, we weren’t living up to our old standard. And so we were selling a product that wasn’t what we had, you know, sold our fans on, right.
From Buss on down, the Lakers have a healthy appreciation for James’ basketball superpowers and are well aware they won’t last forever. The injuries to James and Davis last season were an unwelcome reminder of that much, leading some Lakers officials to worry that this window might be even shorter than they’d originally hoped. As such, they’re in the process of turning over all the proverbial stones in search of the right piece(s) to return to the NBA’s mountaintop. Their time is now, in other words — again.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in the market to hire a new head athletic trainer after injuries ravaged their 2020-21 season. Nina Hsieh, promoted to head trainer two years ago, did not have her contract renewed, sources told ESPN.
L.A. let Marco Nunez go in April 2019 after three years at the helm after a season in which Lakers players lost 212 games because of injury. Before Nunez, Gary Vitti served in the role for more than 30 years. More changes are expected as the team is in the process of restructuring its approach to player health, sources told ESPN.
Despite finishing with the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and getting bounced from the first round, Pelinka echoed a belief shared by Lakers coach Frank Vogel and superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis after L.A.'s 113-100 Game 6 loss on Thursday that had their team been injury-free this season, their back-to-back championship bid could have been reached. "I'm convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we'd be a championship-caliber team," he said. "So the goal is to try to keep that core group together."
"Jeanie [Buss] and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing and that's to smartly build a roster to win championships," he said. "I think next year, of course, hopefully, with all of our fans being able to come back and be a part of the building, we owe them the work to start the process of retooling and have a championship-caliber team that can do special things next year. That's the driving passion and there's alignment there between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches. That will always be the goal."
A day later, Pelinka said, Buss called him and told him she was going to come to the next game, the Lakers first since returning from the All-Star break, to support Harrell. “I think that’s just a great microcosm of Jeanie’s leadership,” Pelinka said. “She finds the perfect balance of leading with her mind and just her intellect and her wisdom mentally, but also leading with her heart.”
Buss was already part of the team’s testing protocols and was tested twice on Feb. 12. She then made the drive to Staples Center for the first time in months. “What would you do if someone in your family was feeling disconnected or feeling down?” Buss said. “You’d want to give them a hug.”
Keeping Caruso, Horton-Tucker, Schroder and Harrell at their potential market values could push the Lakers' payroll to $150 million. (Gasol's $2.7 million salary is already guaranteed.) That's without filling out the roster with other veterans or retaining Morris or Matthews. Once that is done, even with just minimum salaries, the Lakers could be looking at a base payroll of around $170 million to keep the team intact. Add in more than $100 million in luxury taxes and their commitments for next season would land between $250 million and $270 million.
It’s a new chapter for Ms. Buss, too. The eldest daughter and successor to one of the most famous N.B.A. owners, Dr. Jerry Buss, who died in 2013, she’s emerged as the franchise leader in her own right. “Jeanie is not just one of the best owners in the N.B.A.,” said the former Lakers player, coach and investor Magic Johnson. “She is one of the best owners in all of sports.”
Johnny, the owner of the Ice House Comedy Club, said he now isn’t speaking to his brother Jim and maintains an emotional distance from the management of the family business and from the sister in charge. “Jeanie really matured in the last two years, to a point I’m really proud of her, but it doesn’t mean I’ll talk to her much,” he said. (A lawyer for Jim Buss could not be reached for comment.) Ms. Buss makes no apologies. “My dad had his children, but the Lakers was his baby,” she said. “My father said, ‘You are ultimately in charge, you have to protect the baby.’”
His exit — “the Magic abdication,” as Mr. Jackson called it — drew all the media scrutiny of royal family drama. “I wish it had been handled less publicly,” Ms. Buss said. But she showed herself to be the club’s steady leader amid crushing pressure: the death of Mr. Bryant and a pandemic that pushed the grieving team into an isolated bubble, away from family and detached from a civil rights movement of personal relevance to many players. “I get a lump in my throat just thinking about what the players did under the most difficult circumstances,” she said.
For the Lakers’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations, watching the chess-themed miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit” provided a good analogy to his approach to free agency during this abbreviated NBA off-season. “I don’t know if anyone has watched that show,” he said, “but free agency is a little bit like playing a game of simultaneous chess with 29 other teams and they’re all really smart and they have their plans and their boards and they’re going to make their moves and we’ve thought out our various chess moves that we can make and you never know exactly how the game’s going to be played out. “I think if you watch that show on Netflix you see the ins and outs of chess and how to study the board, but you don’t know until you play the game how it’s going to go.”
These aren’t the glitzy “Lake Show” Lakers. Their work ethic is more lunch pail than lavish expense-account lunch. The newcomers’ hunger and energy should fit in well. “I think Frank Vogel and his coaching staff have made it clear that the identity of this team is centered on defense and just playing gritty, tenacious basketball,” Pelinka said. “When you have talented guys like LeBron and AD things on the offensive end are going to work themselves out. “You look at the guys we added: Schroder I think is a pit bull of a defender. Montrezl Harrell is one of the hardest-playing players in the NBA, just the way he brings it every night. I think Marc Gasol, [the 2013] defensive player of the year who is one of the highest-IQ players in today’s game, and then Wesley Matthews, who manages to stand out.”
“I think it’s really building a team around the identity of kind of how the coaching staff wants to coach. And that’s with defense and high basketball IQ and grit, and that’s how we built it,” Pelinka said. “Those threads and those themes can run through a franchise and can continue because it’s just the natural part of sports that players will come and go, but if you have that identity in who you are and how you play, that’ll endure, and that’s what this team’s about right now.”
Pelinka chose a younger and more dependable scorer (Schroder) over an inconsistent shooter (Green) and an unpredictable No. 28 pick. He did not fret over losing Dwight Howard since his hopes for a larger role contradicted the team’s plans to use him only when the matchups called for it. Nor did Pelinka fret over losing a wing defender (Avery Bradley) since the Lakers won an NBA title just fine without him, partly because of Caldwell-Pope’s presence. The Lakers still still need to address their backcourt with Rajon Rondo’s departure. But they added another trusted veteran in Gasol. And they would not have landed him if not for Pelinka’s prudence with avoiding to match Rondo’s market value and with performing a sign-and-trade to Cleveland.
Nonetheless, Pelinka still has an extensive holiday wish list. So even if the Lakers enter next season as NBA championship favorites, Pelinka believes those odds depend on what he does when free agency begins Friday. "It’s easy to fall into complacency when you win a title and say, 'Hey, let’s just run it back,' " Pelinka said Thursday during a conference call. "But at the same time, my school of thinking is, 'Let’s find ways to get even better.' "
Johnson and Pelinka have had continuing conversations over the last year, culminating in that phone call after the Lakers won their 17th NBA championship, tying the Boston Celtics for the most. “I still have such gratitude for the two seasons I got to work with Earvin, and he’s definitely a part of tonight with his vision and working side by side,” Pelinka said in a videoconference late Sunday night. “He’s an unbelievable person, and we have a great, incredibly strong relationship. He was one of the first calls tonight. Had a great talk with him. “But I think what I have learned in life is the hard times or the trials is when you grow, and you turn to your faith, you turn to your family, your loved ones, and more than anything else, I think the lesson that all of us on the inside know is you’ve got to just be about the work. You can’t really get caught up in the noise. … I’m just grateful that the work that we put in led to this, and all the other stuff really doesn’t mean anything when you’re holding the trophy.”
“After I left, that stuff was in the past,” Johnson told The Times by phone. “But I was still a Laker and nothing changed there. And the love that Jeanie and I have for each other will always be there and always has been there. That didn’t change either. I’ve always wanted the best for the Lakers, and that’s why anything that I can do to help the Lakers back to winning an NBA championship, I was going to do. Rob and I were able to move past the situation, and now we’re good. We’re friends. We were talking about repeating last night.”
Magic Johnson: Rob Pelinka really made me feel good tonight reaching out after the Lakers won the NBA Championship. It means the world to me because I know he’s in the middle of celebrating with all of the Lakers players, coaches, and Jeanie Buss he didn’t have to!
In retrospect, that meant Pelinka and the Lakers, without a contract of even $3 million to offer, remained in need of four players to complete an NBA title rotation. Alex Caruso: $2.75 million. Rajon Rondo: $2.56 million (vet minimum). Dwight Howard: $2.56 million (vet minimum, initially non-guaranteed). Markieff Morris: $1.75 million (buyout signing in February). Hit, hit, hit, hit. That’s $9.62 million combined for four guys playing vital roles for a team 48 minutes from a championship, fewer than 129 NBA players made individually this season. John Henson, a backup center for the lottery Pistons, ranked 129th in salary at $9.7 million.
But James wasn't canceling this dinner. He'd been wanting to spend time with the woman who ran the Lakers since he'd chosen to sign with the franchise the previous summer, and he had something important to tell her. "We understand that things happen. We're not pointing the finger at anybody, and we're going to stay down with you," James' agent Rich Paul, who attended the dinner along with James and Lakers executive Linda Rambis, recalled to ESPN. "We're committed to you and we'll come out of this on top. We'll come out of this different than what the world sees. Let the people who talk, talk. We just gotta do the work."
The message was clear: There might be drama engulfing the Lakers, but James wouldn't be adding to it. They were in this together. James told Buss he'd long been an admirer of her late father, Dr. Jerry Buss, and how he ran the NBA's glamour franchise. He was displaying an understanding and appreciation for Lakers history that both surprised and touched Buss, according to a close associate of hers. "It was very genuine," Paul said.
There's a reason Buss and James tried so hard to make that dinner happen on that off night in March 2019: They needed each other. "I know what my name, my stature and what I've done in this league comes with whenever I decide to join a franchise," James said last week after the Lakers closed out the Houston Rockets in their second-round playoff series. "I know what my name comes with. And it comes with winning. I take that responsibility to the utmost [more] than anything. ...
Among the voting constituents sampled, there seemed to be little support for the candidacy of Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka, who helped a massive turnaround to vault the Lakers into the top seed in the West. In back-to-back years, Pelinka landed top-10 players in James and then Davis. He cleared out cap space and pivoted fast to get key supporting players such as Danny Green and Avery Bradley after holding out for days waiting to see if Leonard would sign with the Lakers. And he helped hold the team together after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, who was one of Pelinka's closest friends.
But some of his peers, many of whom had a history of dealing with Pelinka as an agent, seem to not want to pass much credit his way. Some cited the role of Rich Paul, the agent for James and Davis, in putting the team together. Others pointed to the Lakers being accused and fined for tampering for recent years.
General manager Rob Pelinka started the year swinging one of the biggest trades of the offseason for Anthony Davis and signing contracts for a team that would go on to be the West’s No. 1 seed. In the bubble, he’s a rebounder and occasionally a waterboy. His employees have watched him mop up sweat on the court at practices. “There’s no task that’s too low that we can’t come in and help,” Pelinka said. “Especially when it comes to our players and their safety and servicing their needs.” It’s who the Lakers believe they are. But in the bubble, it’s also an absolute necessity. “We’re all now essentially a man-and-a-half,” Hsieh said. “Everybody’s gotta pick up that extra half a person here, half a person there that’s missing.”

http://twitter.com/MarcJSpearsESPN/status/1273692629453037568
The Los Angeles Lakers have returned approximately $4.6 million that they received from a federal government program intended to help small businesses weather the economic burden caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the team said in a statement to ESPN on Monday. The Lakers, one of the NBA's most profitable franchises, applied for relief through the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, and were among the companies and nonprofits granted loans during the first round of distributions. But after reports that several large or highly capitalized entities were securing aid from the program's initial $349 billion pool -- while hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses were shut out -- the Lakers said they returned the money. "The Lakers qualified for and received a loan under the Payroll Protection Program," the Lakers said in a statement to ESPN. "Once we found out the funds from the program had been depleted, we repaid the loan so that financial support would be directed to those most in need. The Lakers remain completely committed to supporting both our employees and our community."
Shaquille O’Neal: “The same thing that was going on in this documentary was going on with me. It was told to me that if we don’t win the series [2004 NBA Finals vs. Detroit Pistons] I’m out of there.” Chris Broussard: “It was told to you before the series started??” Shaq: “Yes, from somebody upstairs in the office, ‘Hey, if you don’t win this series, they’re looking to make changes'… I knew once we lost that it was time for me to do something else.” (Full Audio Above)
Through all of the Lakers' self-inflicted drama, James remained silent -- not even a passive-aggressive grumble on social media -- as he gave the team space to work through the situation. James has sounded off in the past for far less significant organizational setbacks than these. He was frustrated, even angry, about these events, sources said, but his support didn't waver. The message that came from James' camp throughout the ordeal reflected only support for Buss and Pelinka.
The Lakers still attempted to make trades -- for example, sources said, they had discussions with the Detroit Pistons centered on Derrick Rose -- and they were active in the buyout market. But James' open support of the roster signaled a strong deviation from actions past.
Through all of the Lakers' self-inflicted drama, James remained silent -- not even a passive-aggressive grumble on social media -- as he gave the team space to work through the situation. James has sounded off in the past for far less significant organizational setbacks than these. He was frustrated, even angry, about these events, sources said, but his support didn't waver. The message that came from James' camp throughout the ordeal reflected only support for Buss and Pelinka.
The Lakers still attempted to make trades -- for example, sources said, they had discussions with the Detroit Pistons centered on Derrick Rose -- and they were active in the buyout market. But James' open support of the roster signaled a strong deviation from actions past.
Through it all, a source said, the Lakers’ pursuit of roster changes in the past week was half-hearted. And that goes back to the tragic helicopter crash that took the life of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others on January 26, just 11 days ahead of the trade deadline. While much of the league has begun to move on from Bryant’s death, these Lakers are just in the early stages of that process. Going through the experience together has bonded them and it proved difficult to break that bond within the roster for the sake of some trade or another.
“There was not a lot of appetite for changing things,” one team source said. “There wasn’t a lot of appetite for telling players they’re going to Minnesota or Atlanta or somewhere, Charlotte, wherever. If there’s an offer you can’t say no to, of course, you’re going to take it. But the idea of breaking things up after what’s happened with Kobe, it wasn’t something anyone seemed to want to do.”
The wave of fancier job names stretches far beyond the Lakers, though — the titles on business cards of personnel around the league have become more scrutinized and yet more inscrutable. And yet they mean something in the NBA. “Oh, it matters,” said Bobby Marks, a former Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager who now works as ESPN’s front-office insider. Travis Schlenk, the Atlanta Hawks’ president of basketball operations, echoed the sentiment. “I know they’re important, and they’re important to my staff,” he said.
SLAM Newswire: ☑️ Sign LeBron James ☑️ Navigate Magic Johnson resignation ☑️ Acquire Anthony Davis ☑️ Hire Frank Vogel. Rob Pelinka has earned himself a promotion to vice president of basketball operations. LeBron James: Yes he ABSOLUTELY has Earned it!! Congrats RP! 🙏🏾
Adrian Wojnarowski: Pelinka agreed to a five-year contract upon his hiring in 2017, and now gets an extension on the heels of acquiring LeBron James and Anthony Davis and reshaping a lottery roster into a championship contender.
Tania Ganguli: Can confirm the ESPN report that Pelinka was also given a contract extension in addition to his expanded title of vice president of basketball operations and general manager.
“I’m extremely pleased with the work Rob has done in order to put this franchise in a position for success, “said Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss. “His strong leadership skills, as well as his commitment to building a winning culture, both on and off the court, have brought us one step closer to being a championship-caliber team and I look forward to our continued work together.”
Does he miss it? “Part of me wishes I was there,” he says. But then looks down at those bikes. “But this is what I do. … This is what I’ve done for 40 years. … I’m never that guy that has one step in, one step out. I’m not that dude, and I couldn’t do that anymore.” He believes he should be given a fair share of credit for the Lakers’ fast start. "This team would not be in the position it’s in without me,” he says.
He talks about the trades he and Pelinka made to clear the salary cap space to sign James, notably the dealing of Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell. He talks about his recruitment of James. He talks about the players they drafted — Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart — who were included in the deal for Anthony Davis. ”This was my strategy, this is what I thought we’d be in three years,” he says. “I knew we were on the right track. Everybody wanted to do it their way, but I’m good with who I am. … I think people respect what I’ve done for the team.”
The Lakers hired Vogel, arriving under the shakiest circumstances. Vogel had been first contacted only to be an assistant. His introductory press conference was the one eclipsed by Magic Johnson's latest TV broadside against Pelinka. Vogel was asked to take Jason Kidd, who had tried to promote himself as a head coaching candidate, as an assistant, a suggestion the new coach could hardly have resisted. Kidd has a well-known reputation for backstage intrigue. The Lakers are so sensitive to suggestions that he will undercut Vogel, they have told press people that Jason doesn't want to do interviews, making him their first assistant who’s off-limits to the press.
Mark Medina: Anthony Davis: "The front office did a great job of including LeBron and myself and the decisions to build this team. Every guy that is one this team, me and LeBron had a say so. That’s very important."
Mark Medina: LeBron on the FO: "They did a hell of a job in bringing in a coaching staff & handpicking the coaching staff as they did. Throughout all the ‘bull’ that was narrated through our franchise & going toward Rob & the beautiful people we have upstairs, their kept their blinders on"
Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka maintain a really close relationship, but the NBA legend knows better to distance himself from the team’s affairs. In a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the Lakers icon stressed confidence in his former agent’s capability to handle business for the purple and gold. “No, I stay away from it. I’m real close with Rob obviously, and we’ll talk often, just as a sounding board for him. I stay away from that stuff. And Rob is more than capable of handling the job and all the pressure that comes along with that.”
Storyline: Lakers Front Office
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