Lakers Rumors: Magic, Pelinka, R. Paul, L. Rambis, More

Shortly after Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as the Lakers‘ president of basketball operations in April, Sam Amick of The Athletic wrote about the “ESPN elephant in the room,” suggesting that there had been rumblings for much of the year that ESPN was working on a story that would be “extremely unflattering” for Johnson and would focus on his mistreatment of employees.

Johnson denied at the time that such a report had anything to do with his decision, admitting to reporters that he could be demanding, but insisting that he “never disrespected” anyone.

More than a month and a half after Johnson stepped down, it seems that ESPN report has finally surfaced. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com published a fascinating, in-depth look at the Lakers today, citing team employees who said that Magic used “intimidation and bullying as a way of showing authority” during his two years as the head of basketball operations in L.A.

“He comes off to the fan base with the big love and the smile,” an ex-Lakers athletic training official told Holmes. “But he’s not — he’s a fear monger.”

Holmes’ many sources – which include several current and former Lakers staffers – described Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka as leaders who made major roster decisions unilaterally, berated staffers, and created a culture that marginalized many employees and generated fear among staffers — at least two employees suffered panic attacks, per Holmes.

“It’s f—-ng crazy over there,” one former Lakers star told confidants, according to Holmes.

Holmes’ story is packed with so many interesting details that it would be impossible to pass them all along without approaching his 6,000+ word count ourselves, so we recommend checking out the piece in full. Here are several of the highlights:

On Lakers’ roster moves:

  • Members of the basketball operations department and coaching staff told Holmes that Johnson and Pelinka completed many of last summer’s free agent signings after having sought little to no input from them. Some members of the organization learned about the moves through media reports.
  • “We all had the same reaction that the basketball world did, like what the f— are we doing?” one Lakers coaching staff member said, referring to a series of signings that included Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, and JaVale McGee. “Not only are we not getting shooting, but we’re also getting every basket-case left on the market.”
  • During the 2018 draft, the Lakers set up two “war rooms,” with Johnson and Pelinka in one and other front office executives and scouts in the second. Staff members in the second war room were anticipating the team would use its No. 25 pick on Villanova’s Omari Spellman, the top player left on their board. Instead, the club drafted Moritz Wagner, shocking scouts and other staff members, per Holmes.
  • Pelinka later told staffers that he had heard negatives about Spellman and spoke to Lakers player Josh Hart about them before deciding to pass on the Villanova forward. Some members of the organization told Holmes that the pick represented the kind of unilateral decision that the Lakers’ top executives made without looping in key figures who would typically be involved. “For him to covertly go to a player and go behind everybody’s else’s back, that’s the problem,” a coaching staff member said.

On Luke Walton and the head coaching search:

  • After being told by Johnson prior to the 2018/19 season not to worry if the Lakers got off to a slow start, Luke Walton was admonished by Magic two weeks into the season when the club had a 3-5 record. The Lakers’ head coach was confused about why the team had suddenly changed its message, but members of the staff later came to believe that LeBron James‘ agent Rich Paul played a role, as Holmes explains.
  • In November, Paul approached NBA commissioner Adam Silver at a lunch and complained about Walton, telling him that he believed Tyronn Lue – not Walton – was the right coach for the Lakers, sources tell Holmes. Paul also let it be known via back channels that he wasn’t pleased with Walton’s inconsistent lineups and his allotment of minutes, says Holmes.
  • After the Lakers moved on from Walton, they missed out on their top two head coaching targets – Lue and Monty Williams – before hiring Frank Vogel. Multiple staffers who spoke to Holmes said the process left the team in a state of “shock” and “confusion.”

On the Lakers’ handling of players:

  • Members of the organization had problems with the Lakers allowing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to continue playing during the 2017/18 season while he was serving a 25-day jail sentence for violating the terms of his DUI probation. The judge’s work-release rules allowed KCP to practice and play in-state games with the team, but staffers weren’t impressed with the decision, which they viewed as the Lakers trying to curry favor with agent Rich Paul, according to Holmes.
  • “Anybody [else] would have put him on personal leave or suspended him,” one coaching staff member said of the KCP decision, per Holmes. A front office executive added: “I had a major problem with that.”
  • Sources close to some specific Lakers players tell Holmes that those players’ trust in management had “all but evaporated” after the details of the team’s Anthony Davis proposals repeatedly leaked to reporters prior to the trade deadline. “Guys know there’s no trust there,” a Lakers coaching staff member told ESPN before the end of the season. “Guys know the new [administration] has completely bent over to the agent world and were overly sensitive to having these one-sided relationships with these guys where they kind of control our every move because we’re ‘big-game hunting.'”
  • Some players felt that LeBron was complicit in the handling of the Davis situation, given his connection to the Pelicans star through Paul, sources tell Holmes.

On Rob Pelinka:

  • Pelinka would often sit in on pregame and halftime coaches’ meetings, which is unusual for a GM, writes Holmes. “It’s weird from the player’s standpoint,” a coaching staff member told ESPN. “The players are not able to open up and speak freely, because you’ve got the guy in the room who supposedly controls your future, so why would you open up and be honest and confrontational when that might be what is required for that moment?”
  • Current and former staff members expressed serious concerns about Pelinka’s credibility and the flow of information in the franchise, says Holmes. “We think, more often than not, he’s not being truthful,” a coaching staff member said. “That goes throughout the organization.”
  • Despite the concerns about Pelinka, he has a strong backer in Linda Rambis, who has long been a major supporter and ally of the GM, according to Holmes. Rambis, a close friend of owner Jeanie Buss, has been referred to as the Lakers’ “shadow owner,” and one front office staffer says Rambis “loves” that role.
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40 thoughts on “Lakers Rumors: Magic, Pelinka, R. Paul, L. Rambis, More

  1. Black Ace57

    Boy almost at a loss for words after reading this. This seems even worse than the Suns article a few months back with Sarver bringing the goats into the GMs office where they crapped all over. I don’t know how they fix this.

    It really seems like this starts at the top with Jeanie Buss and it does not seem like she has learned at all from this. Whether the Lakers get a big name free agent or not I don’t know if it matters with how much this disfunction will hold them back.

    • ChiSoxCity

      Who else would you blame it on? He can’t ever focus on doing his job; he has to have control of every aspect of the team. When things go bad, he expects others to take the fall. This is why dysfunction follows wherever LeBron goes.

      • kenleyfornia2

        Lebron didn’t do all this and if you think he did you need your head examined.

      • knickscavsfan

        Dude your hate for LBJ is so obvious. What decisions, other than to join the Lakers, has he made?

        The drama began by hiring Magic as president but not allowing him to choose his own GM and later, not allowing him to fire Walton. Magic later said he would’ve hired Lue but that doesn’t mean it was 100% committed to Lue.

        They ask LBJ for input, which makes absolute sense and happens across sports teams with a mega star.

        I’m sure, the extent of his input was likely limited to what was asked of him and he likely told his opinion.

        Let’s not act as if this team’s front office didn’t have these issues prior to LBJ.

        The only way I feel LBJ has caused issues on his team is when Klutch signed JR Smith and Tristan as clients and LBJ made it clear, when asked about it, that he felt both guys were integral and he wanted them back asap. That forced the Cavs to bid against themselves. That and him choosing, for most of his tenure the 2nd time in Cleveland, to go year to year instead of committing longer. That tied the Cavs hands when it came to bringing in other players who ONLY would come if they knew LBJ was going to be their during their own duration if signed.

        • Grimjac

          How much can one fan be on a player’s jock? LeBron us a very talented cancer. Excuse me, his team is a very talented cancer.

      • Curtisrowe

        Yeah. Lets blame the front office issues on a basketball player. Because that’s really smart.

    • Equinsu Ocha

      no, that would be ridiculous. a strong owner and front office would handle this situation far better. this Lakers front office, and Jeannie Buss especially, is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. Shame on them for losing their way, and believing that they could circumvent actual basketball people in building and running what was once a great franchise.

    • x%sure

      Some people will not only do that but also find a way to blame Lebron for Sarver’ goats, the Spurs’ leg doctor, and OKC’s obnoxious patch.

      • knickscavsfan

        You left out the middle east crisis. I’m sure he’s the blame for that too.

  2. Skip, Tampa

    It should be aired out now. Most is probably already known by player anyway.
    Only way this gets worked out is from the top.
    Jeanie Buss needs to hire the best search firm, now. Otherwise offer full authority and big bucks to Sam Presti or Sean Marks to come in and clean house.
    LeBron and Paul in this trash head over heels. Paul does nothing without LeBron approval.
    LeBron did same thing in Cleveland twice. Riley shut it down cold.
    Trade LeBron to NY for the #3 pick. Back up and build off the young core and an All Star or two. Betting the #3 and #4 would have any teams attention.

    • Rocket32

      I doubt they would trade LeBron unless he decides he wants out and demands a trade. Whether it would actually be for the best or not, it wouldn’t be a very good look or get a very positive reaction from the fan base and media.

      As long as LeBron is there they’ll be relevant almost no matter how the team does. Joining him is the most attractive thing they have to offer to top FA’s. Without him they are irrelevant again and are back to only having ‘being LA’ as a way to attract FA’s.

    • knickscavsfan

      What has Rich Paul done that wasn’t done hand-in-hand with Magic’s request?

      How can ANYONE think Rich Paul could force the Laker’s to trade for AD? LBJ signed a 4 year deal and has NO leverage to force anyone to do what they don’t want to do. In fact, I thought LBJ and the Lakers had a plan in mind that 2018-19 was not the year where they would honestly contend for a title. Who changed that course is unknown. Maybe the idea that the Celtics would be a real contender to acquire AD (think back to when Irving publicly said he intended on staying in Boston past this season). The fact that the Celtics could only trade for AD after the season because of the NBA rules was likely the reason why Magic pressed for AD during the season. Still, that’s NOT LBJ’s fault. The Lakers/Magic made it clear that they were adamant about bringing in one or two all-stars this year. In fact, I would say that, and restoring some respect to the Laker brand, were the two main things Magic had domain over. Luring in all-stars and bringing respect back to the organization.

      LBJ is being scape-goated by a Laker fan base that act like they don’t even want him there. Ingrates. What other all-stars have taken up the task to try and resurrect the Lakers? Shoot…Kobe was unable to lure any stars the last few years too.

  3. snotrocket

    The team needs to be sold. It’s as simple as that. Total refresh of all front office personnel is the only way to fix this.

  4. I’m sure all of the top free agents will flock to LA in droves. Let’s see if the NBA actually investigates the hostile work environment claims. It appears Magic is really a sinister dude. Jeanie is clearly incompetent. Kuzma, Hart, Ingraham, Ball, and others need to demand trades. That place is toxic.

    • ChiSoxCity

      LeBron is toxic. Doesn’t want to be coached, doesn’t want to play with young guys, doesn’t want to be a leader.

  5. hoosierhysteria

    All signs point to Pelinka as problem. I don’t have any good ideas on replacement. In fact I love to see the Fakers dumpster fire…more gas. Tragic Johnson is not smart…most of his moves were wrong. Fakers fans coming to realize: you do not have a divine right to every good player in the Association. Suffer. You got lucky with the 4th pick, so stop whining. LBJ came to LA for his son’s education….not to be the next Faker legend. He will sit out more frequently.

  6. benovanman

    These Lakers should switch to a more descriptive name – the LA Schadenfreudes.

  7. Luckylefty2

    “It’s f—-ng crazy over there,” one former Lakers star told confidants“

    -Kobe Bryant

  8. julyn82001

    Jeanie please put all these drama people in the buss and ask the driver to take them far, far away from LA…

    • She bears the most responsibility in this. The buck stops with her. She needs to sell the team. Since Dr. Buss died, this has been a joke of a franchise.

  9. Thronson5

    Funny how media and other sports pages won’t let it go. Just keep digging and digging and digging and when you think that maybe it’s done…boom..here comes more! And it’s all the same crap. Let it go. Let’s move on and let’s enjoy this series we are about to watch! This is going to be a great series no matter who wins and I’m extremely happy for the Raptors for finally getting to the finals ana extremely happy for Kawhi after all the nonsense that was talked about him! I think the Warriors will win but still really awesome the Raptors made it this far and to see Kawhi have not only the year he had but the playoff run he had as well.

    • macdaddy96

      I mean, unless your a laker fan you have to love the drama about this team don’t you? I know I and many others do LOL.

  10. royhobbs

    This just keeps getting better. The lakers almost made the playoffs last year. Hilarious.

  11. Almost all the events cited can be characterized differently by the different parties to them. Magic, I’m sure, has a different take. His and Pelinka’s combined lack of experience (not just in NBA FO management, but management in general) may make the “staff’s” characterizations more credible, but it doesn’t make them more accurate. What’s known about this inherited “staff” other than that they worked in an organization where relationships matter more than merit, and that organization (presumably with them being consulted and secure in their jobs) earned the #2 pick in each of their last three drafts? I don’t doubt that Magic was an overbearing boss. But I also wouldn’t dismiss the notion that Magic inherited a staff that thought they had tenure and were offended by the concept of accountability. Soft too. I mean “panic attacks” – seriously?

  12. specialfriedrice

    Pelinka…Kobe’s…Legacy…5…3…
    You connect the dots…when will real journalism make it to the internet….mainstream news is for people that should have to apply for a license to procreate.

    • x%sure

      No, you connect them or whatever it is you didn’t do. Say it out loud, see how it sounds.

  13. Brackish Hippo

    And just think how much worse this would all be if the Buss brothers were still in charge!!!

    I had high hopes after Jennie pushed them out. Oh well!!!

  14. david722

    NBA should take over the management of this franchise. If it were a movie, people would not believe. Shame on the Buss family.

  15. knickscavsfan

    The biggest problem that I can see is that Buss hired people who are known or successful for doing things other than what they are hired for.

    Magic has never had a front-office position other than as an owner of non-NBA franchises.

    Pelinka-Great agent, hated by most GMs, has never held a front-office position.

    Kurt Rambis and Linda Rambis- Kurt was a solid role-player. He’s had some experience as a assistant coach, head coach and assistant GM. One can make a case that perhaps he deserved a shot at being the GM and not some murky “special advisory role” which basically means he can critique any and all without the authority to make changes or be accountable for mistakes.

    Kobe, Linda Rambis, Phil Jackson. All sit on sidelines giving their input and backstabbing each other.

    A mess. Yet, somehow LBJ is the problem????

  16. Grimjac

    Trade LeBron and his team to the Warriors. That will end the Dynasty. Bring back President Riley and Supreme Consultant West. Let the adults run things from now on.
    That’s good advice for D.C. as sell..

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