On Feb. 21, 2017, Kupchak’s 92-year-old mother was visiting from New York. That morning, two days before the NBA’s trade deadline, Kupchak received the call informing him that he had been fired along with Jim Buss and John Black, the team’s longtime head of public relations. “I kind of knew that the situation was tenuous,” Kupchak said. “There was a lot going on. … It was a challenge. And nothing lasts forever, so I really was not that surprised.” Soon, he was in the car with his mother and sister, navigating the 405 Freeway toward LAX. “I had to take them to the airport like an hour after I got the phone call, so that was tough for them,” he said.
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The Lakers front office was now in the hands of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kupchak’s former teammate with the Showtime Lakers. Kupchak checked in on his former colleagues who remained in place to explain what happened. “He called me and told me that morning,” said former Lakers assistant GM Glenn Carraro, who has since made a fresh start of his own by opening a pizzeria in Hollywood. “I was on my way to work. Everything that was going on, he felt that, ‘Hey, it’s business as usual.’ He just wanted to make sure I held down the fort and got everyone up to speed. So, I don’t think there was any animosity. He wanted to make sure we still did the right thing even though he wasn’t there anymore.”
They had to do that with a wounded Kobe Bryant, who sustained three season-ending injuries in his final four seasons. While rehabbing from a torn Achilles in November 2013, Bryant signed a two-year contract extension worth $48.5 million. More than five years later, Kupchak still defended the hefty contract. “We were lucky to have Kobe for his last two years,” Kupchak said, “because he really was a great distraction considering we were going through a rebuild and losing games. It was kind of like we were rebuilding under cover, but it was a rebuild.”
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka are all on the same page regarding Walton being the coach for the rest of the season, the people said. Buss especially wants to give Walton every opportunity to succeed, one person said. “Nothing is going to happen with Luke,” that person said. “There hasn’t even been any talk about it and there won’t be any talks about it. Luke will definitely finish the season and he has the full support. So any talk in the media or on social media can be put to bed about Luke. He’s not going anywhere. There has been no conversation about it.”
Alex Kennedy: NBA’s official statement on Magic Johnson/Ben Simmons situation: pic.twitter.com/nUhv5G6c8M
Kyle Goon: Here’s what Lakers team president Magic Johnson said about whether the team was entering good faith negotiations. The question was not specifically phrased about New Orleans, but it was implied. “No. … But at the end of the day, what happened happened.” pic.twitter.com/1Jahd32ZmF
Dave McMenamin: Magic Johnson on if the Lakers’ lack of success with New Orleans could effect his team’s approach moving forward: “That’s not going to change our plans this summer. It’s a great (free agency) class and we just want to get one of them.”
Ohm Youngmisuk: Asked if the Lakers are worried that relationships with the players have been fractured due to the trade rumors, Rob Pelinka says Magic Johnson, Luke Walton and himself have “really close relationships” with the players and that all players “understand there is a business component” to playing in the NBA.
Ohm Youngmisuk: Rob Pelinka says he doesn’t think there was a “shift” in thinking of the assembling of the roster when the Lakers built the roster around playmakers and felt there was enough shooting on the team this summer. Pelinka says injuries forced the Lakers to adjust. Pelinka called the addition of more shooting is more of a tweak and a “smart response to the events that unfolded but definitely not a shift.”
Sensing that the Lakers have been weighed down by the persistent trade rumors over the last few weeks, Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, plans to meet with the team this weekend in Philadelphia, according to two people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Johnson wants to encourage the Lakers to stay the course and to focus on the task ahead with 27 regular-season games left to play, one person said.
Johnson will listen to every player who wants to speak, hoping to have an open dialogue with his team so they can all move forward together, one person said. The Lakers are chasing a playoff spot despite missing All-Star forward LeBron James for 17 games during the middle of the season. The Lakers (28-27) are in 10th place in the Western Conference standings, 1½ games behind the eighth-place Clippers (30-26).
As the NBA trade deadline looms within a week, the Lakers’ immediate pursuit of All-Star forward Anthony Davis is fraught with obstacles — including the fact that New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps has yet to return a call to Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, league sources told ESPN. The sluggish response time is perhaps a message that New Orleans places some responsibility on the Lakers for Davis’ trade request, or perhaps an indication to Davis and his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, that the franchise doesn’t plan to easily acquiesce on a trade request to partner with LeBron James.
Demps is picking up his phone and returning calls — just not from the Lakers, sources said. From Paul George to Leonard to Davis, the Lakers’ front office is growing accustomed to icy receptions from teams enduring All-Star trade demands with a full year left on their contracts.
With Boston prohibited from trading for Davis this season, going to the Lakers presents Davis a chance to make something of this 2018-19 season. The Celtics and other suitors are curious as to whether the potential Lakers-or-bust stance softens once the deadline passes, sources said.
While making an appearance on ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s “The Lowe Post” podcast, Los Angeles Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss gave the Boston Celtics the highest praise possible when discussing the genesis of the Lakers’ dynasty. Buss, who has had control of the team since 2013-14, says that her father (the late Dr. Jerry Buss) bought the Los Angeles-based franchise in the 1979 in order to provide a competitive balance in the NBA. “I love… I respect the Celtics’ legacy. And really if you look at it, the Lakers are — and what Dr. Jerry Buss built with the Lakers — was really to balance the Celtics dynasty.”
Johnson can’t fire Walton unilaterally. He would need to have Buss on his side for that. Since Walton was hired in 2016, Buss has been an ardent supporter of the former Laker. She has admired his demeanor and his ability to relate to players and get them to buy in to his modern offensive system. She is commonly seen as the buffer between Walton and the impetuous Johnson, the last line of defense and reason.
We asked if the injury scare increased Magic’s sense of urgency in getting another superstar to the Lakers — to which he replied, “Nope. Nope. Nope.” So, what’s the message to the rest of the Lakers who will have to soldier on without LeBron? “Play hard, play together, play Laker basketball.” As for LeBron’s return date, Magic wasn’t specific — saying James is “taking a little time.”
In between tipoff and the final buzzer, there were flashes of Wade turning back the clock and plenty of cheers. He received a standing ovation upon entering the game off the bench in the first quarter, and later was the subject of a tribute video.
“I thought it was incredible,” Wade said of the gesture. “I wanted to thank Rob Pelinka, Magic, Jeanie Buss. Just the whole Laker front office and Laker Nation for allowing that to happen. I did not expect that. That was so cool. I looked over and saw my wife beaming. It was great. I appreciate them for giving me that moment.”
Walton proceeded to say it was not uncommon for him to meet with Johnson, Pelinka and controlling owner Jeanie Buss. “This is not new,” Walton said. “Like all of the sudden there is some emergency meeting.”
Buss remains supportive not just of Walton, a source said, but also of the power structure of Johnson, Pelinka and Walton. Walton has been in his job for two-plus seasons, outlasting the Lakers’ three previous coaches. After last summer’s overhaul, however, he is really eight games into a new gig. Yes, his lineups have been scattershot, and he has utilized several that he will likely never go back to. But isn’t that the natural process when the front office gave him a roster that was haphazardly assembled and two key players punched their way to the sideline?
In the process, he has revealed himself as a hard-line manager. Employees who have been part of basketball operations staff meetings — encompassing the entire front office and coaching staff — have described Johnson as saying “Do your job or I’ll find someone else.”
Yet according to a source with knowledge of Johnson’ thinking, his frustration wasn’t rooted in the early Lakers results as much as it was the lack of perceived identity on both ends of the floor. As he sees it, there hasn’t been nearly enough progress when it comes to establishing a system (the Lakers are eighth in offensive rating and 21st in defensive rating thus far). That’s the key word to be remembered here – system – and it’s perfectly ambiguous in the kind of way that might keep Walton up at night as this season wears on.
According to the source, there were no threats made to Walton about his job security during the meeting and Johnson has not lost confidence in the coach who he didn’t hire (Walton was given a five-year, $25 million deal by the exiled Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak in April 2016). And no, for those who wondered, the source said that Johnson has no interest in taking Walton’s job and living through that coaching misery again. But the element of risk for Walton here is implied, and a natural question sprouts from all of this angst as we wait to see where this early-season Lakers circus goes.
Tania Ganguli: Magic Johnson was angry in the meeting he had with Luke Walton (first reported by @Adrian Wojnarowski and @Dave McMenamin) but he doesn’t make rash decisions. Several sources told me and @Brad Turner that Luke Walton’s job is not in danger. Further, ownership still very much believes in him.
Mike Trudell: Walton said he meets with Magic, Rob and Jeanie all the time, but isn’t going to relay specific conversations about specific meetings. To summarize his general feeling, he said: “I feel like I have a great relationship with management … I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere.”
Tania Ganguli: “I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere,” Luke Walton says when asked about his job security. pic.twitter.com/DKY0rzg8Su
Despite Johnson’s prior proclamations of needing to allow time for Walton to develop a young roster surrounding four-time MVP LeBron James, evidence is mounting that Walton’s job security ultimately depends upon his ability to significantly improve upon a 3-5 to start the season. Johnson’s aggressive meeting tone circulated to individuals throughout the organization, including to principal owner Jeanie Buss, league sources said. Throughout his tenure with the Lakers, Johnson has earned an internal reputation for an often-time volatile management style, including with his handling of Walton and the coaching staff, sources said.
That statement didn’t seem to be tampering by even the loosest definition, but it will be interesting to see how the league reacts to Johnson having the following exchange: “Last year at the same time, World Series, you guys had me on and we were talking about who I might bring to the Lakers… And you guys got me LeBron! (laughs)” *a picture of Ortiz with Kevin Durant and LeBron both wearing Lakers jerseys* “Hey, hey, I love that (more laughter)!”
Although Johnson did follow it up with this: “I’ve already been fined enough.” We’ll see if the NBA agrees, although the following defenses would seem to work in Johnson’s favor: He never said anyone’s name, so maybe he’s just a fake jersey photoshop image enthusiast! He may have just been admiring the graphic design work.
Rondo, meanwhile, says the Lakers have been perhaps the most player-friendly organization he has been a part of. “I mean, this is definitely a players-first organization,” Rondo said. “I can’t say it’s not the best I’ve ever played for, as far as the staff, they’re great. They’re always very welcoming when you come in the door. We just speak all the time. They’re very polite. They ask if we can do anything for you. From Magic [Johnson], to Rob [Pelinka], they’re always around just trying to encourage you. “Or whatever you may need as a player, they’re always willing to give it to you or find a way to help you. So, off the court, on the court, getting pulled over by police, TMZ, I mean anything. They’re always there to try to figure out a rescue or make things better for their team and their players and the organization.”
There was a non-fictional inspiration fueling her decision-making process, too, one that was far more personal for Jeanie: Her ex-fiance’ and former Lakers coach, Phil Jackson, who won five of his record 11 titles with Bryant at his side. Jeanie had learned from Jackson’s mistakes in New York, where he took that job as the head of the Knicks front office in March of 2014 and was fired three years later after, as she saw it, he fell prey to the internal politics that have plagued that franchise for decades. “He should’ve made sure (to control) who was surrounding him, because the people close to you will take the knife and put it in your back,” she continued. “And so, I had not thought of it that way (with the Lakers situation). I was trying to do the least amount of change.”
But the Magic trick wouldn’t work, Bryant told her, unless she went all the way. “Jeanie, your father gave you the last word for a reason,” Bryant told her during their meeting. “You have to respect that wish as well. He gave you that final hammer to make the really tough, tough decisions. And sometimes, at some point, you have to step into that limelight and make those decisions. …You’ve got two ways of doing it. You can let it continue to fester and remove it piece by piece, or you just say, ‘To hell with this, we’re turning over a new leaf. I just brought Magic on, and I want to turn things around. I want to send a message, and off we go.’” Adds Bryant: “At some point, the mother of dragons just has to accept the fact that she has three big-ass dragons. Jeanie has always been reluctant to take the reins. I think she was very concerned or conscious about respecting her father’s wishes, of how responsibility of the team management would divvy up, and I could tell it had always been something that was kind of hamstringing her a little bit.”
When Jeanie posted an Instagram video of her debut stand-up comedy act on Sept. 6, you never would have known the true meaning of it all. At first glance, the 57-year-old was simply sharing a personal moment in which she took great pride. It was, it seemed, a charming and admirable attempt to broaden her horizons. In truth, it was more than that. It was an unofficial part of a therapy session that has been helping her for decades. “This is the first time I’ve talked (about it),” Jeanie explained. “I knew that once I did the comedy, and I posted it, and people knew that was something I was doing, I’d be asked about it. And I thought it was a good way for me to bring up how comedy is a way for you to talk about the things that are bothering you. And that’s what therapy is.
So Bryant told her, “Cut it all out at once. I know it’s hard to do, but if you want to turn this ship around, and turn it around sooner rather than later, then you’ve got to make those hard decisions.” Especially if the Lakers primary free agency target was the greatest player in the game. “Jeanie, I know who we’re trying to get; we know who we’re trying to get, so that player is not going to come here with all of this shit going on. It’s not going to happen,” Bryant told her. “So if you do want to have that focus, and go after that player, then I’m telling you that you’ve gotta clean house, and you’ve gotta just reshuffle the deck and start anew. You have the new practice facility (the UCLA Health Training Center) that we’re just moving into (in the summer of 2017). We’ve got new management, and off we go. But that player is not coming here unless you do that.
“As a player, it’s like, listen, it’s a cultural thing. You’ve got to have the right culture around, especially for him at this stage of his career,” Bryant explained. “You don’t want to come to a team and deal with a bunch of bullshit, right? You don’t want to come here and be part of an organization where the walls are talking and stuff is getting out left and right and you have this camp and that camp. You don’t want to do that. So I said, ‘You’ve got to start anew.’”
The Los Angeles Lakers have hired Kurt Rambis as Senior Basketball Advisor, it was announced today by President of Basketball Operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson. In his role, Rambis will report to Johnson and support the basketball operations and coaching staffs in their day-to-day functions.
“As a member of the Showtime Lakers, Kurt is a champion and knows how to win,” said Johnson. “He has been an integral part of the Lakers organization winning four NBA championships as a player and an additional four as a part of the staff. His insights and wide range of experiences will be a huge benefit to our operations.”
Pelinka explained how his time as an agent helped him make the Lakers attractive place to James and other players on “The Official Lakers Podcast”: “I think in addition to Kobe, just working as a player representative for all those years, it kind of let me into the mindset of what the players want from the franchises they’re playing for. What are the important things? Because I would hear all the complaints, like ‘Hey this team needs to do this better or that better.’ And I would witness the strengths because strengths aren’t complained about.”
Harrison Faigen: In a rollercoaster of an analogy, Rob Pelinka compared a kitten learning how to be a lion to the young core getting to practice with LeBron. pic.twitter.com/Fqi0CP8A1g
Mike Trudell: Magic said Rondo has been terrific in 5-on-5’s. Didn’t want to play on LeBron’s team, but wanted to run the other team. Within one of the scrimmages, Magic added that Svi barely missed a shot. Thinks he hit 6 straight 3’s.
Ohm Youngmisuk: Magic Johnson says Lonzo Ball has gotten stronger, has shot very well when he was able to be on the court due to his knee this offseason and could have a “breakout season.” pic.twitter.com/XHtY7vl1Gs
Ryan Ward: Magic Johnson on if he’s worried about how new-look #Lakers & characters will mesh: “No concerns. We love that they’re all different individuals and they bring something different to the table. We needed some grittiness, some toughness.”
Mike Trudell: Magic noted that this team is going to run, period. Doesn’t want it to just be on LeBron to control. He noted several players (Rondo, Lonzo, B.I., Lance, etc.) that can push it. Pelinka added: “We want this team to have a lot of engine thrust, and not just from one player.”
Mike Bresnahan: Magic on plans for LeBron in Laker offense: “We don’t want his usage to be high, like he has to have (the ball) all the time,” Magic said, adding that plenty of other players could initiate offense with the ball (Rondo, Lonzo, Ingram).
Kyle Goon: Magic says Kentavious Caldwell-Pope “looks like a different guy.” Also says Kyle Kuzma has grown a lot. “He got mad because he wasn’t in the top 100.”
Kyle Goon: Magic says of the center position: You know how the game has gone. There’s not a true center backup.
Tania Ganguli: “We’re very happy,” Magic Johnson says when asked about the center position. Talks about how the game has changed and says he’ll leave things up to Luke Walton. Mentions Beasley and McGee.
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.”
Lakers Nation: Magic Johnson said Lance Stephenson has “been amazing.”
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.
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February 19, 2019 | 8:57 pm EST Update
Shams Charania: Forward Henry Ellenson plans to sign a 10-day contract with the New York Knicks, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.
“It’s very weird,” Conley said when asked by the Sun about the situation over the weekend. “I had to ask (Gasol) about what’s it like having guys like that that we’ve played in the playoffs so many years and basically we’ve treated them like rivals for so many years. But he’s really excited, I know he’s enjoying it. He’s sending me pictures and texting just always, there’s something new every day (in Toronto), so it’s pretty cool for him.”
“We knew at some point it would happen and just happy he got to a situation where he can succeed and have a chance at winning a championship,” Conley said. The point guard expects Gasol to bring a massive boost to the Raptors. “Man, he’s as solid as a player you’ll find in every aspect of the game,” Conley said.
Gasol was Toronto’s key trade deadline acquisition a couple of weeks ago and Green was at the head of the line in welcoming his one-time foe to the Raptors. “It’s amazing, I’m excited about it, Green told the Toronto Sun over all-star weekend in Charlotte. “He was one of my favourite players before he came to us because of how much he used to kick our ass when we played them,” Green said.
Tim MacMahon: Chris Paul really doesn’t care that he’ll face Rajon Rondo on Thursday for the first time since their spit spat in the second game of the season. “I forgot about it, know what I’m saying?” CP3 said. “Once the fine goes out of your check, move on.”
Tim MacMahon: Clint Capela spent the All-Star break in Houston working out and playing 1-on-1 against Rockets reserve center Isaiah Hartenstein. His surgically repaired right thumb passed all tests. “It felt great,” Capela said. “I was really happy about it, so now I’m ready to go.”