Linda Rambis

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.

Lakers Won’t Hire Replacement For Magic Johnson

The Lakers will not hire a president of basketball operations to replace Magic Johnson, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne tweets.

GM Rob Pelinka will remain in his role and report directly to ownership, Shelburne adds. Pelinka had previously reported to Johnson.

Johnson stunned the franchise by resigning from his position last month without giving anyone in the organization prior notice. A report from ESPN earlier this week revealed that owner Jeanie BussPelinka, senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis, and executive director for special projects Linda Rambis “operate as a group on basketball decisions.”

The Lakers just hired Frank Vogel as their new head coach after negotiations to bring in former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue fell apart.

With Pelinka’s power seemingly growing, the pressure will be on the former agent to deliver stars via trades or free agency to play alongside LeBron James. The Lakers had good luck in the lottery earlier this week, moving up to the No. 4 pick.

Lakers Notes: No. 4 Pick, Cap Room, Kidd

The NBA’s new draft lottery format benefited the Lakers in a big way on Tuesday night. Under the old system, the lottery would have been complete once the first three picks were determined. This year though, one additional drawing was conducted, allowing the Lakers to defy the odds and move up all the way from No. 11 to No. 4. As Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com details, general manager Rob Pelinka was thrilled by the outcome.

“This is a powerful asset for us,” Pelinka said on a conference call. “We owe a commitment to our fans to have an outstanding season next year. What this does is it gives us the ability to either select an impact player at [No.] 4 or possibly use this as an extremely valuable asset in trade.”

While having a lottery pick just outside of the top 10 would have been useful for the Lakers, moving into the top five represents an “extraordinary shift” for the franchise, according to Pelinka.

“I mean, top-five picks in the draft, if you go back in the history and study them, those picks can alter and impact franchises,” Pelinka said. “This is a big moment for us. Last year, of course, we had to go through some hard and difficult things that this is certainly a great silver lining. Our dedication is really toward our fans right now and doing all we can to deliver a really special Lakers season for our fans.”

As we wait to see what the Lakers do with their pick, let’s round up a few more notes on the team…

  • The one downside of the Lakers’ move up to No. 4 is that the increased cap hold for the higher pick will cut into their projected space, tweets cap expert Larry Coon. Based on the NBA’s current projections, it also may affect the team’s ability to land a max free agent. Our updated cap digest shows the Lakers can create $32.5MM in projected room — the maximum salary for a free agent like Kyrie Irving or Jimmy Butler (with 7-9 years of experience) would be $32.7MM.
  • The Lakers don’t need to blow up their roster or their front office, but they’d benefit from adding some experience in both areas, according to Arash Markazi of The Los Angeles Times, who makes the case for why the team should hire an accomplished executive and add at least one or two veteran players this offseason.
  • The Lakers are asking for trouble by hiring Jason Kidd as an assistant coach, says Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times, arguing that the Kidd decision is the most baffling one the team has made in recent months.
  • Ohm Youngmisuk and Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com recently took a deep dive into the Lakers’ front office hierarchy to determine who has the most influence and who’s calling the shots. Sources tell ESPN that Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka, Kurt Rambis, and Linda Rambis “operate as a group on basketball decisions.”

Lakers Notes: Davis, Vogel, Kidd, Front Office

The Lakers are in position to dictate the terms of an Anthony Davis trade and should make an offer with a firm deadline, writes Bobby Marks of ESPN. L.A. made a strong push for Davis before the February deadline, reportedly offering several packages of young players and draft picks for the Pelicans star, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer.

Marks believes getting past the constraints of the regular season could work in the Lakers’ favor as they no longer have to take on an unwanted contract such as Solomon Hill‘s to complete a deal. He suggests offering Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, this year’s lottery pick plus an unprotected first-rounder in 2021 and giving New Orleans a June 30 deadline to complete the deal so it will be resolved before free agency.

Under that proposal, L.A. would use some of its cap space to absorb Davis’ salary, eliminating the opportunity to offer a max deal on the free agent market, but the Lakers would get their second star and still have enough left over to chase second-tier free agents.

There’s more this morning from Los Angeles:

  • If the Lakers can’t land Davis or sign an elite free agent, Marks recommends following the Pacers’ approach and improving the roster through two-year contracts. He identifies T.J. McConnell, Danny Green, Bojan Bogdanovic and Dewayne Dedmon as players who might be willing to take a portion of the available $35.6MM on short-term deals.
  • Because he had to take on Jason Kidd as an assistant, new Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is walking into a situation similar to what LeBron James‘ former coach, David Blatt, faced in Cleveland, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Blatt wasn’t able to earn respect from James, who bonded with former player Tyronn Lue, his top assistant, setting the stage for a coaching change a year later. James and Kidd already have a strong relationship, Windhorst notes, that began when they won Olympic gold medals together in 2008.
  • The Lakers’ awkward coaching search exposes the danger of having too many people trying to run the organization, writes Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times. Kurt Rambis is expanding his power as an adviser, and his wife Linda has become a “shadow owner” because of her friendship with Jeanie Buss. Ex-coach Phil Jackson is also contributing ideas, while former team president Magic Johnson has reconciled with Buss and is offering advice as well.

Coaching Updates: Williams, Lakers, Suns, Cavs

The Lakers sent a big contingent of executives to Philadelphia today for their second interview with head coaching candidate Monty Williams, reports Bill Oram of The Athletic (via Twitter). According to Oram, in addition to GM Rob Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss, the meeting will also include Lakers executives Joey Buss, Jesse Buss, Kurt Rambis, Linda Rambis, and COO Tim Harris.

Williams won’t be the first candidate to meet with such a big group. According to Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (via Twitter), the same Lakers executives met with Juwan Howard on Tuesday and Tyronn Lue on Wednesday. It was Howard’s first interview and Lue’s second for L.A.’s head coaching job.

As Oram observes (via Twitter), it’s somewhat interesting to see the younger Buss siblings, Jesse and Joey, involved in the process. While they’ve been part of the Lakers’ organization for years, their contributions have been limited to the scouting department and the G League affiliate — they’d been largely left out of major basketball operations decisions until now.

Here are a few more coaching-related updates from around the NBA:

  • The Lakers aren’t the only team with interest in Monty Williams. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Suns officials are traveling to Toronto to meet with the Sixers assistant on Friday before Philadelphia opens its series against the Raptors on Saturday. Phoenix received permission earlier this week to interview Williams, who has been identified as the team’s top candidate to replace Igor Kokoskov. The Suns may try to preempt a Lakers offer, Wojnarowski writes.
  • The Cavaliers and J.B. Bickerstaff are working to set up a meeting for next week, sources tell Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Bickerstaff said on Wednesday that he’s “definitely interested” in Cleveland’s head coaching job. Vardon also confirms that Juwan Howard and Jamahl Mosley are the only candidates who have formally interviewed with the Cavs so far.
  • The Cavaliers remain interested in Nuggets assistant Jordi Fernandez, but have yet to officially line up an interview, league sources tell Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link). Denver remains alive in the playoffs, so the Cavs will have to work around the Nuggets’ schedule.