Luke Walton

Pacific Notes: Thompson, Caroline, Fall, Kings’ Staff

Mychal Thompson, father of Warriors star Klay Thompson, said there’s “no question” Klay will re-sign with Golden State, Connor Letourneau‏ of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. The Warriors are expected to offer him a full five-year maximum deal worth nearly $190MM despite Thompson’s knee injury during Game 6 on Thursday. Thompson suffered a torn left ACL and is expected to miss most of next season.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

Kings Add Three To Coaching Staff

The Kings have made several additions to their coaching staff. According to Sam Amick of The Athletic (Twitter link), the team has added Bob Beyer, Jesse Mermuys and Roy Rana as assistant coaches.

Beyer most recently coached under Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City. He previously was in Detroit under Stan Van Gundy.

Mermuys follows new Kings head coach Luke Walton from Los Angeles to Sacramento, having spent the last three seasons with the Lakers.

Rana is a long-time Canadian coach who leads the country’s under-18 and under-19 national teams.

Walton joined the Kings after mutually parting ways with the Lakers. Sacramento is expected to add even more staff in the coming weeks.

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.

Pacific Notes: Suns Staff, Walton, Bell, LeBron

A trio of assistants/scouts in other organizations could soon be joining Monty WilliamsSuns staff, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweetsSteve Blake (Trail Blazers), Randy Ayers (Nets) and Mark Bryant (Thunder) have emerged as top contenders to join Williams in Phoenix. Williams was hired by the Suns three weeks ago after spurning overtures from the Lakers.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Luke Walton was spotted by the media helping out with the Kings’ pre-draft workout on Thursday but he didn’t speak to the press, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee reports. The new Kings head coach hasn’t faced the media since a lawsuit alleging that he sexually assaulted a former reporter was filed last month. The league and organization are jointly investigating the matter.
  • Jordan Bell, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, has made a positive impression in the postseason, as the team’s website notes. The Warriors forward received a start in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and averaged 6.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG and 2.0 APG in the series. “Jordan Bell is one of those guys who has got that energy,” veteran swingman Andre Iguodala said. “He thrives off the spotlight. He enjoys being in those moments and people are watching him.
  • People within LeBron James‘ inner circle expressed concern that the dysfunction within the Lakers organization could ruin the team’s summer even before Magic Johnson‘s public criticism of GM Rob Pelinka and the front office structure, Sam Amick of The Athletic reports. The challenge of convincing at least one top free agent to join James was already seen as daunting around the league, and recent developments have make that uphill climb far worse, Amick adds.

Magic Johnson Talks Pelinka, Lakers, Walton, Lue

Former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson didn’t hold back during an appearance on ESPN’s First Take this morning, accusing general manager Rob Pelinka of “betrayal,” as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com writes. Johnson made it clear that Pelinka was the person he was referring to when he spoke during his resignation announcement about “backstabbing” within the organization.

“I start hearing, ‘Magic, you are not working hard enough. Magic’s not in the office,'” Johnson said. “People around the Lakers office were telling me Rob was saying things, Rob Pelinka, and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn’t in the office enough. So I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball now, just not in the Lakers office anymore.”

According to Johnson, he was prepared to help groom Pelinka as his eventual replacement atop the Lakers’ front office, but felt as if the GM was angling for his job sooner, and ultimately decided he couldn’t work alongside someone he thought was trying to undercut him. Asked whether there were others in the front office he felt betrayed by, Johnson only identified Pelinka.

“Just Rob,” Johnson said. “Other people didn’t bother me… what happened was I wasn’t having fun coming to work anymore, especially when I got to work beside you, knowing that you want my position.”

Here’s more from Johnson’s eventful TV appearance:

  • In Magic’s view, there were too many cooks in the kitchen in the Lakers’ basketball operations department, writes Youngmisuk. Johnson specifically singled out president of business operations Tim Harris as an executive whose role and influence in basketball operations became outsized.
  • Harris became involved in the head coaching decision after Johnson and owner Jeanie Buss debated the merits of firing head coach Luke Walton, according to Magic. Johnson wanted to replace Walton, but Buss apparently wavered on giving him the go-ahead to do so, as Youngmisuk details. “We went back and forth like that and then she brought Tim Harris into the meeting. Some of the guys and Tim wanted to keep [Walton] because he was friends with him. I said when I looked up, I only really answer to Jeanie Buss,” Johnson said. “Now I got Tim involved. It’s time for me to go. I got things happening that were being said behind my back. I don’t have the power I thought I had to make decisions. And I told them, when it is not fun for me, when I think I don’t have the decision-making power I thought I had, I got to step aside.”
  • Johnson indicated that Tyronn Lue would have been his choice to replace Walton as the team’s new head coach (Twitter link via Clevis Murray of The Athletic).
  • Discussing the Lakers’ 2018 free agent decisions, Johnson said that the Lakers didn’t want to offer Julius Randle a contract longer than one year, adding that Randle may not have been a fit anyway if he had remained on the roster (Twitter link via Murray).

Kings, NBA Open Joint Investigation Into Walton Allegations

The Kings and the NBA announced today in a press release that they’ve launched a joint investigation into the allegations against new Sacramento head coach Luke Walton. As we detailed earlier this week, Walton is facing a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault.

As Sam Amick of The Athletic writes, the résumés of the investigators handling the case suggest that the Kings and the NBA are taking the situation seriously and are determined to discover the truth.

The Kings have hired Sue Ann Van Dermyden, the founding partner of Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux, who has extensive experience with employment law and conducting investigations. Jennifer Doughty, another veteran investigator at Van Dermyden Maddux, will work the case for the franchise as well.

As for the NBA, it has assigned one of its top attorneys to the investigation, announcing that senior vice president and assistant general counsel Elizabeth Maringer will take the lead on the league’s side.

According to Amick, the Kings will take an “innocent-until-proven-guilty” approach with Walton, who the team signed to a four-year contract earlier this month. However, they won’t hesitate to ask tough questions as part of the investigation.

After Walton’s accuser, former television reporter Kelli Tennant, spoke about the allegations at a press conference earlier this week, Walton’s attorney Mark Baute issued a statement strongly defending his client.

“These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court,” Baute said. “(Tuesday’s) press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement. Her lawyers want to create a public circus to distract from their complete lack of evidence to support their outrageous claims. We will not try this case in the media or pay them a dime.”

Coaching Notes: Suns, Cavaliers, Kings

The Suns let head coach Igor Kokoskov walk after just one season and Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (Twitter link) that the team will also let go of all of his coaching and player development staff. Phoenix’s next head coach will have the ability to build his or her staff from the ground up.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Cavaliers are interested in J.B. Bickerstaff for their head coaching gig, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Bickerstaff, who spent the past two seasons as the Grizzlies’ coach, may “formally” be added to the team’s coaching search, which Stein hears is in its early stages.
  • As of Tuesday afternoon, Luke Walton‘s job with the Kings remains safe, Sam Amick of The Athletic hears. The franchise is working with the league to investigate the accusations against Walton and unveil the truth.
  • The Kings had interviews for assistant coaching positions scheduled prior to the allegations surfaced and those took place today with GM Vlade Divac and Walton conducting the meetings. Former Suns and Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek was one of the interviewees, Amick writes in the same piece.

Latest On Allegations Against Luke Walton

Facing a lawsuit which alleges that he sexual assaulted former Spectrum SportsNet reporter Kelli Tennant, Kings head coach Luke Walton has retained the services of attorney Mark Baute, who issued a statement on Monday night in strong support of his client.

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations,” Baute said, per Sam Amick of The Athletic. “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

A source tells Amick that Kings general manager Vlade Divac had no previous knowledge of the accusations against Walton until Monday’s report surfaced. The Kings appear to be just as stunned by the news as everyone else, according to Amick, who adds that it’s too early in the fact-finding process to determine whether the team might explore the possibility of terminating Walton’s new four-year contract.

Here are a few more notes on the Walton situation:

  • Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times passes along several details of the lawsuit, which alleges that Tennant “was afraid she was about to be raped” during the alleged incident at the Casa Del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica. While Tennant didn’t make the allegations public until now, she had previously told others about the alleged assault, according to the suit.
  • As Ganguli relays, the lawsuit also discusses a second incident which took place on May 24, 2017, when Tennant spoke at a charity event honoring Walton and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. Tennant alleges that Walton “made lewd noises and looked at her suggestively before hugging her in an unwanted way,” Ganguli writes. The alleged incident was mentioned in the lawsuit to establish a “pattern of mistreatment.”
  • It’s crucial that the Kings are fair and transparent as they investigate the allegations against Walton, writes Marcus Breton of The Sacramento Bee. While it’s an uncomfortable situation for Sacramento, the team would only make things worse by going on the defensive or focusing on protecting its investment in Walton, Breton contends.

Luke Walton Sued For Alleged Assault

10:41pm: The Warriors, who employed Walton as an assistant coach before he was hired by the Lakers, say they were unaware of the alleged incident, per a statement passed along by the New York Times’ Marc Stein (Twitter link). “We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

10:18pm: An ESPN report from Dave McMenamin gives a conflicting timeline, saying the alleged incident happened before Walton was named Lakers coach in April 2016. “No one ever reported it to the team,” a source told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And that is not why the team parted ways with him.”

8:39pm: New Kings head coach and former Lakers coach Luke Walton is being sued by a female reporter for an alleged sexual assault in May 2017, according to a TMZ report relayed by Yahoo Sports’ Jack Baer.

Kelli Tennant, a reporter who previously worked for Spectrum Sportsnet LA, claims that Walton assaulted her in a hotel room in Santa Monica while discussing a book she was writing.

The lawsuit reportedly asserts that Walton forcibly kissed Tennant and rubbed his body against her despite pleas to stop.

Tennant claims she did not initially report the alleged assault since she had to continually interact with him because of her job, according to TMZ.

Tennant left Spectrum Sportsnet LA that year. She now works for Amazon Prime, covering the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour, and also has a podcast focusing on women’s issues.

The accusation casts a shadow over Walton and his swift hiring by Sacramento GM Vlade Divac.

The Kings issued a statement, Sam Amick of The Athletic tweets, which states, “We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

Western Notes: Cousins, Grizzlies, Divac, Griffin

DeMarcus Cousins suffered a left quad injury during the first quarter of the Warriors’ game against the Clippers on Monday night will undergo an MRI on Tuesday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Cousins suffered the non-contact injury while making a steal. If the injury is serious, it would naturally be a major blow to Golden State’s quest for a third straight championship. The Warriors signed Andrew Bogut late in the season and his role would grow if Cousins misses significant time.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Grizzlies may be more focused on front office hires than filling their head coaching vacancy, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. J.B. Bickerstaff was fired and head of basketball operations Chris Wallace was re-assigned to a scouting position last week. Jason Wexler was promoted to team president and Zach Kleiman was named executive VP of basketball operations. “Trending that way,” Wexler told Cobb about the need to fill out the front office before hiring a coach. “But at the same time, I’m not definitely saying that we’ll have a full front office as we move through the coaching search. There will be a little bit of dual-tracking, but focusing a little bit more heavily on the front office out of the gate.” There’s been no talk yet about potential candidates, as we detail in our Head Coaching Search Tracker.
  • Kings GM Vlade Divac hinted at a disconnect between himself and former coach Dave Joerger during Luke Walton‘s introductory press conference on Monday. Divac, who played with Walton on the Lakers 14 seasons ago, commented that he hired someone who was “on the same page” with him. “I think coaching is the toughest job in the NBA,” he told Noel Harris of the Sacramento Bee and other media members. “Having somebody who is behind you to work together, be on the same page and share the same philosophy about the game is definitely going to help both of us.”
  • David Griffin, who was hired over the weekend to run the Pelicans’ front office, received assurances from the franchise that it would bring in reinforcements to its basketball staff, Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate reports. The front office, including the scouting department, executive staff and developmental arm, will be expanded. Griffin might still hire a GM and several assistant GM to work beneath him, though he will be the ultimate decision-maker on basketball moves, Kushner adds.