Storyline: Lakers Front Office

501 rumors in this storyline

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.”

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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.

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.

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.”

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.”
3 months ago via ESPN

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.”
3 months ago via ESPN

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.
3 months ago via ESPN

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.

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.”
4 months ago via ESPN

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.”

Happily, at long last for the Lakers, they’re warming up, if not red hot. It may be because Magic, still a charismatic figure, is in charge, or that Kupchak did a good job before being fired so that they finally have the right young players, even if none of them is Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are showing signs of being special, as has Lonzo Ball in an earlier stage of development. Julius Randle, thought to be outward bound for cap room, has clawed his way up the pecking order. A year ago if you asked how many of their players had shown they were special as opposed to merely promising, the answer would have been none. Magic still dreams like a Laker, targeting the top free agents: Bron, Paul George and, at least until last week’s injury, DeMarcus Cousins.
4 months ago via ESPN

James Worthy sees some Magic Johnson-like traits in Lonzo Ball and believes his old Showtime point guard will be able to “deliver” some star reinforcements in free agency this summer. Before the season started, Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ president of basketball operations, said he can envision Ball and Brandon Ingram running the floor like Johnson and Worthy did during their Showtime days. Johnson set an extremely high bar for the past two No. 2 overall picks respectively. “Big shoes to fill,” said Worthy, currently a Lakers analyst for Spectrum SportsNet. “But I think I totally get conceptually where Magic was coming from and the style of play that Luke [Walton] is promoting, the fast-paced game. Lonzo Ball, for sure, presents some of the talents that Magic had. Not as tall, but he is 6-6 and has the IQ, has a vision like no other. “As soon as players get used to the way he passes and they get some really good shooters around him, I think people will really appreciate him. And they already have appreciated what he brings to the table, a very unselfish player.”
4 months ago via ESPN

Magic Johnson’s biggest task will be to give Lonzo Ball — who is averaging 12 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 3.3 steals in his past three games — superstars to pass to. The Lakers will try to add two stars this summer when LeBron James is expected to headline the free agency class, and Worthy thinks his old point guard will not come up empty-handed. “You look at what Magic Johnson has been able to do throughout his basketball career, [and] in his post-basketball career, he’s been able to manifest pretty good deals,” the former Lakers great said. “When Magic is in the room, that is a major asset trying to recruit. “With Kobe [Bryant] gone and the young core players that we have, and I think players understand and see what Lonzo Ball brings to the table as a point guard, I really think we are in a good place and I think [Johnson] will be able to deliver next year.”

Yet despite LaVar’s assertion to ESPN that the Lakers (13-27) were “not playing for Luke no more,” or that he’s “not connecting with one player,” a person with direct knowledge of the Lakers’ thinking told USA TODAY Sports that Walton’s job is not in danger and that the organization still has complete faith in the coach who is in the second season of a five-year, $25 million deal. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
4 months ago via ESPN

“It’s just a lot of white noise, in a sense,” added Kuzma, who scored 14 points in a 132-113 home win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday to snap a nine-game losing slide. “Luke is my guy. I love playing for him. I’m sure most of us love playing for him too. … We stand by Luke. I know the front office does.”
5 months ago via ESPN

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George said Wednesday that the Indiana Pacers suspected his relationship with Los Angeles Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw constituted tampering over the summer, but the league investigation found no evidence of tampering by Shaw, multiple sources told ESPN. “They thought it was tampering,” George said after the Thunder shootaround before their game in Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). “There was no tampering at all. It was kinda crazy. Our relationship, myself and B-Shaw, was far more stronger than the teams, me coming to the Lakers was. B-Shaw has been a mentor for me, so it was kind of comical.

Before the draft, in front of all the NBA’s GMs and top scouts, Kuzma helped himself at the league combine when he made four of five three-pointers in a game. But some scouts considered that an aberration. Not Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ new president, or Rob Pelinka, their first-time GM, as they went into their first draft and needed to hit in big since taking over the basketball operations three months earlier. In a rebuilding campaign, they took Ball at No. 2 overall, believing that even with his funky shot and problems defending quicker point guards, he’d be the floor leader they needed, a player other players wanted to play with, and the kind of rare talent who could make his teammates better.

But Pelinka, who represented Kobe for 18 of his 20 years in the NBA and also had former Lakers Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza as clients, was also someone she knew and trusted. What’s more, the fact he didn’t work for an NBA team meant Jeanie could recruit him without seeking the kind of formal permission that would have tipped off Jim Buss and Kupchak to her plan. “We were having lunch one day, just casually – and she (says), ‘Well, Magic is amazing at casting the vision, and big picture stuff, but I need a cap expert; I need someone who understands the business of the NBA, someone who can implement his vision,’ and she was like, ‘Someone like you, Rob,’” Pelinka remembered. “From there, it was just like a light bulb went on for everybody and it just unfolded.”

The Lakers can’t hope to stop LaVar. They can’t even contain him if they keep being so nice, as opposed to having someone – Magic Johnson is the one he might listen to – tell him to shut up already. From Jeanie Buss on down, the Lakers are gritting their teeth, increasingly unable to endure LaVar’s ceaseless jibes: Claiming they don’t know how to coach Lonzo; calling Luke Walton “soft” for “babying” him; belittling the organization’s commitment (“The Lakers should build around Lonzo. Why are they sitting him down and not starting him in the fourth quarter? This is why the record is raggedy”); zinging teammates such as Julius Randle for missing Lonzo on a fast break in the loss to the Warriors since he “had a wide-open layup or a 3-pointer!”

LaVar Ball said his oldest son, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, is “disgusted” with how the team has been playing. And the outspoken father blamed the Lakers’ recent struggles on how the coaching staff has been utilizing his son. The Knicks announced he would be reevaluated after two weeks, didn’t give a concrete timetable and ominously announced he would start “a treatment and rehabilitation plan.” That language doesn’t sound like a two-week injury. A stress injury, according to medical experts, means Hardaway either has a stress reaction or, more severely, a stress fracture to either his fibula or tibia. A leading expert on basketball leg injuries, Dr. William Hsu of Northwestern, told The Post a stress reaction to those inflamed bones can put a player out two to six weeks. A stress fracture is more of a two-month process but surgery is not required.

LaVar Ball hasn’t been shy to share his inflammatory opinions about the Los Angeles Lakers, from Luke Walton’s “soft” coaching to Julius Randle’s poor recognition of Lonzo Ball during the team’s recent loss to the Golden State Warriors. But according to Lakers legend A.C. Green, the Big Baller Brand CEO’s proclamations aren’t a problem for Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the Purple and Gold. “There’s no issue. There’s no matter,” Green told TMZ Sports. “Earvin knows what he’s doing.” Rather than advise Ball to step back from the spotlight, Green said simple that “LaVar’s gonna do what he does” and that “The team is gonna keep playing.” “Earvin knows what he’s doing. Rob knows what he’s doing,” he added. “So I don’t see any issues there. I don’t think he has any affiliation with the Lakers, so he’s not involved with the Lakers,” he explained. “But he has an opinion, and you guys keep giving him an opportunity to share his opinion, and you should.”

The Laker rebulding program dates to 2014 when they got Randle at No. 7, followed by three No. 2s, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball… leaving them far behind Minnesota which got Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and Philadelphia with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. No, the problem wasn’t Jim Buss, a figurehead… It wasn’t GM Mitch Kupchak, who was mostly, if not always, on the money with picks like Randle, Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance. The first rule is: Get lucky. The Lakers did, drawing those three No. 2s… just not enough to have a transcendent player there for them, as Towns was for the T-Wolves at No. 1 in 2015, or Embiid was for the Sixers at No. 3 in 2014 after hurting his foot before the draft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s former agent who is now the Lakers General Manager, relayed the story at an ESPNLA event. According to Pelinka, who still has the telegram, it read: “Kobe, as you make this decision, never bet against me winning championships.” According to Pelinka, Bryant read the note from Buss, who was out of town on vacation, and knew that he simply couldn’t leave the Lakers. Over the years Buss had proven that he could build championship-level teams, and if Bryant wanted to win, there was simply no better place to be.
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May 21, 2018 | 11:30 pm EDT Update