Storyline: Lakers Front Office

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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.

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.

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.
1 month ago via ESPN

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.

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.

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.”
6 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.”
6 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.
6 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.”
7 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.
7 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.”
7 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.
7 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.”
8 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.
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August 18, 2018 | 9:59 pm EDT Update
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Oscar Robertson’s 1971 Milwaukee Bucks NBA championship ring fetched $91,137.60at an auction Friday night. The ring, which features a diamond and the inscription “NBA World Champions” on the face, was one of 51 pieces of Robertson memorabilia auctioned off by Lelands.com. The collection also included Robertson’s Indiana State high school championship ring, College Player of the Year trophy, and several game-worn jerseys.
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August 18, 2018 | 8:29 pm EDT Update
One of the Richmond league’s founders, Paul Taylor, grew up with Iverson in Newport News and Hampton, and invited him to come the final game of the season. “I didn’t expect him to come,” said Anthony Brown, a former Monacan High School standout, who played on Saturday for the victorious Richmond Kougars and took home the MVP trophy. Iverson high-fived him as he held up the trophy. “It felt good,” Brown said. Taylor, who was released from prison last year after serving more than two decades for murder, and Jawad Abdu, a former Richmond gang member, started the league to right some of the wrongs they’d done in the community.