Rich Paul

Latest On Lakers: Jackson, Buss, Pelinka, James, Bryant, Westbrook, Vogel

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson has been in frequent contact with owner Jeanie Buss regarding team matters all season long, according to The Athletic’s Bill Oram and Sam Amick.

It’s uncertain if Jackson, Buss’ ex-fiance, will eventually take a formal role in the future. However, she has relied upon trusted members of her inner circle throughout the team’s tumultuous season and will continue to lean on them to map out the franchise’s offseason approach. Jackson has taken a particular interest in the what The Athletic duo describes as the often uncomfortable dynamics surrounding the Russell Westbrook situation.

It’s unlikely that there will be a change at the top of the team’s front office structure, according to Oram and Amick. GM Rob Pelinka still has Buss’ full support and trust. Kurt Rambis, who works alongside Pelinka as a senior basketball advisor, also remains a strong and trusted voice with the organization.

The story also delves into several other hot topics regarding the Lakers:

  • Among LeBron James‘ inner circle, there are already discussions about the roster and what can be done to fix it for next season. Buss is eager to maintain the trust of James and wants to keep her biggest star happy. The post-All-Star break meeting with James’ representative, super-agent Rich Paul, was aimed at keeping both sides on good terms and quelling any controversies regarding James’ future. Sources close to James insist he does not have issues with the team’s power structure, per Oram and Amick.
  • Kobe Bryant, who was represented by Pelinka, would have been offered a hands-on role in the front office by Buss if not for his untimely death.
  • Coach Frank Vogel will likely be fired unless the team makes a surprising postseason run, per Oram and Amick. However, no final decision has been made.
  • The coaching staff made an unsuccessful push for Westbrook to be traded, according to The Athletic’s duo, who also confirm reports that there’s a growing disconnect between the point guard and the staff, even though Vogel has kept him in the starting lineup.

New York Notes: KD, Simmons, Reddish, Sims

All-Star forward Kevin Durant could return from his sprained left knee MCL as soon as this Thursday or Saturday, Nets head coach Steve Nash indicated, per Nick Friedell of ESPN. Durant has been sidelined since injuring his knee on January 5.

“We’re hopeful that he can play this week,” Nash said. “So Kevin’s getting close, which is exciting.”

In the 36 games he has been healthy, Durant has been his typical All-NBA self for the Nets. This season, he is averaging 29.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 5.8 APG, with shooting splits of .520/.372/.894.

“He’s going to come back and impact the game every way possible,” new Nets starting center Andre Drummond said of Durant. “I think with our chemistry together on the floor, it’s going to make it very difficult for teams to pick their poison, with who they want to guard, along with Kyrie [Irving], Seth [Curry] and when Ben [Simmons] comes back. And we go on the list of our roster, we have a lot of threats.”

There’s more out of the City That Never Sleeps:

  • Rich Paul, the agent for new Nets addition Ben Simmons, told Brian Windhorst of ESPN (video link) that Simmons should be thought of as “week-to-week” with back soreness as he works his way into game shape ahead of his 2021/22 season debut. Windhorst expressed uncertainty about whether Simmons would even be ready at any point in March for Brooklyn, suggesting that he’s “frankly not close” to debuting for his new team.
  • With Knicks wing Quentin Grimes unavailable for much of the remaining season, new swingman Cam Reddish finally has a path to regular rotation minutes in New York, per Greg Joyce of the New York Post“I’m trying to work my way in,” Reddish said. “Just trying to make the right play, really. Not trying to force it too much. But yeah, I think the last 20 games are definitely a good spot to start.” In 11 games with New York thus far, Reddish is averaging 5.4 PPG, 1.0 RPG and 0.7 SPG across 12.5 MPG.
  • With the 25-36 Knicks seemingly stuck on the outside of the play-in race looking in, rookie reserve center Jericho Sims has been getting some run as New York looks towards the future, per Greg Joyce of the New York Post. “[Sims is] a great kid, great worker, getting better day by day,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said Tuesday. “Very diligent. Comes in and watches film and wants to do well. So I think this experience is really good for him.” Sims has displaced Nerlens Noel in the rotation as Noel continues to grapple with a plantar fasciitis injury. 36-year-old veteran center Taj Gibson has also been a healthy scratch for the last two games in favor of the No. 58 pick in the 2021 draft.

Pacific Notes: Thompson, Kings, LeBron, Rich Paul

Warriors wing Klay Thompson sourced input from a variety of his NBA colleagues across the league, past and present, while rehabilitating from back-to-back season-ending injuries, writes Mark Medina of NBA.com. Thompson tore his ACL during the 2019 NBA Finals, and subsequently tore his Achilles while ramping up for the 2020/21 season.

“So many people count you out when you go through an injury like this,” Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins, who consulted with Thompson, told Medina. “You know your heart. You just got to stay focused, diligent and tough. You can get back from this.”

Wilkins suffered an Achilles tear while playing for the Hawks, but ultimately returned to his All-Star form afterwords.

Thompson also maintained a dialogue over text with former Warriors teammate Kevin Durant, now with the Nets. Durant tore his Achilles while with Golden State during the 2019 postseason.

“It’s inspiring to watch him and see him look the exact same way prior to the injury,” Thompson said in praising his teammate. “It’s a testament not only to his willpower but his skill level. He might lose a little quickness or a little bounce. But you’ll never lose the ability to put the ball in the hole.”

The 31-year-old five-time All-Star also spoke with Grant Hill and Rudy Gay about their own recoveries from major injuries. Thompson is averaging 17.1 PPG with a reduced minutes load this season as he continues to work his way back, hoping to reclaim his All-Star form come playoff time.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Given that the perpetually rebuilding Kings cannot necessarily rely on big-ticket free agency additions as a small market franchise, Chris Binderman of the Sacramento Bee wonders if Sacramento could benefit from taking a page out of the Nuggets‘ playbook when it comes to adding and developing talent.
  • The 27-32 Lakers find themselves facing an uncertain future after going all-in on Russell Westbrook in a trade this summer. Although LeBron James appeared to voice his relative apathy about a long-term future in Los Angeles during the 2022 All-Star Weekend festivities, he has since expressed his commitment to the team. When Bill Oram of The Athletic openly hypothesized that James might not want to remain with the Lakers beyond the end of his current deal, James retorted in comments to the press. “Anytime Bill says anything about the Lakers it’s going to be negative,” James said. “So, I hope no one in the Lakers faithful listens to Bill Oram. I hope not. He hasn’t said one great thing about the Lakers in so long.” In a new piece for The Athletic, Oram opines that James himself was responsible for the latest rumblings.
  • Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, GM Rob Pelinka, and James’ longtime agent Rich Paul met this week to discuss everyone’s feelings surrounding their team-building strategy. Sam Amick of The Athletic provides more details on the group’s conversation.

LeBron Clears Air, Wants To Stay With Lakers For “As Long As I Can Play”

LeBron James reiterated his desire to finish out his career with the Lakers and said he doesn’t “push the buttons” when it comes to personnel decisions, as he told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and other media members after the team’s loss to the Clippers on Friday night.

James is under contract for one more season and will be eligible to sign a two-year extension this summer.

“This is a franchise I see myself being with. I’m here. I’m here,” James said. “I see myself being with the Purple and Gold as long as I can play.”

James raised a lot of eyebrows with his comments during All-Star weekend that he wouldn’t close the door on a possible return to Cleveland. He also stirred the pot by heaping praise on Thunder general manager Sam Presti for his ability to identify talent.

James also expressed his desire in an interview with The Athletic to eventually play with his 17-year-old son, Bronny. However, James said Friday he hopes that will occur in L.A.

“I also have a goal that, if it’s possible — I don’t even know if it’s possible — that if I can play with my son, I would love to do that,” he said. “Is that, like, something that any man shouldn’t want that in life? That’s like the coolest thing that could possibly happen. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with this franchise.”

Bronny would not be eligible to play in the NBA until the 2024/25 season.

In terms of his relationship with the front office, James said his comments about Presti were not a potshot toward GM Rob Pelinka.

“If I comment [on] or compliment the GM that’s in OKC — I really believe he’s done a phenomenal job. And you guys spin that to me saying that Rob is not doing a great job,” James said.

Super-agent Rich Paul, whose agency represents James and Anthony Davis, met with Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss on Tuesday in what could be characterized as a clear-the-air session.

Pelinka consults his superstars regarding potential moves, including the Russell Westbrook trade with Washington that contributed significantly to the Lakers’ poor season. There were also reports James and Davis were unhappy the front office stood pat at the trade deadline.

James says he doesn’t have final say on trades.

“I don’t push the buttons,” James said. “They ask for my opinion, and I voice my opinion and what I believe. But I don’t press any buttons. That’s what our front office is for, and that’s what our leadership group is for.”

He also feels the influence that he and his representative have within the franchise sparks jealousy.

“I mean, I think a lot of people are, to be honest, just jealous of the relationship that Rich has with the front office and with this team and with the relationship that I have, that I’ve grown over the last four years. I mean, that’s what I think it boils down to,” he said.

Rich Paul Meets With Lakers’ Brass, Assures Team LeBron Wants To Stay In L.A.

LeBron James wants to remain with the Lakers and he and his representatives are not insisting on front office changes, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports.

James’ representative, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, met with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and VP of basketball operations Rob Pelinka on Tuesday, and expressed LeBron’s desire to remain with the team beyond this season. James is eligible for an extension this offseason.

Paul also stressed that there’s no push from his side for management changes and that there’s shared accountability, as Wojnarowski described it, for the team’s disappointing season.

James and Klutch Sports were reportedly upset with Pelinka for standing pat at the trade deadline.

Paul also spoke to Buss and Pelinka of James’ desire to finish off the season as strong as possible and then seek to upgrade the roster in the offseason.

Paul’s agency also represents Anthony Davis, who is out several weeks due to a foot injury.

James raised a lot of eyebrows with his comments during All-Star weekend that he wouldn’t close the door on a possible return to Cleveland. He also stirred the pot by heaping praise on Thunder general manager Sam Presti for his ability to identify talent.

Lakers Notes: James, Davis, Pelinka, Identity

LeBron James needs to offer the Lakers a commitment before they decide what to do with him and the roster in general this offseason, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. James is eligible for a two-year extension after the season but otherwise would become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023. If James is intent on returning to Cleveland, their trade options would be limited, similar to what happened in Brooklyn when James Harden expressed his desire to play in Philadelphia.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Trading James is the Lakers’ only viable path to success in the coming years, according to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, who contends that LeBron’s trade value offers the greatest rewards for the lowest risk, since no team wants Russell Westbrook‘s contract and declining production while Anthony Davis presents major injury concerns for would-be suitors. James could be a worthwhile one-year rental for a top contender and the Lakers could acquire some badly needed young talent.
  • James has wielded more power within the Lakers than Kobe Bryant ever did, sources inside the organization told Bill Oram of The Athletic. James and agent Rich Paul are putting the squeeze on GM Rob Pelinka and the front office with tensions at an all-time high. The Lakers’ front office doesn’t want to squabble with James, Oram adds, and Pelinka has insisted internally that there are no hard feelings between the two sides.
  • The season has gone too far along and there’s too many deficiencies for the Lakers to establish a positive identity the rest of the way, scouts told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Pelinka, Rich Paul, Westbrook

LeBron James‘ comments during All-Star Weekend sent a strong message to the Lakers that they need to improve quickly, writes Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. James, who is under contract for just one more season, hinted at a possible return to Cleveland and said he wants to play the final season of his career for whichever team drafts his son, Bronny. He also heaped praise on Thunder general manager Sam Presti for his ability to identify talent, leaving an unspoken contrast with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, who James and Klutch Sports are reportedly upset with for standing pat at the trade deadline.

Woike states that all the young All-Stars on display in Sunday’s game were a reminder that many teams have surpassed the Lakers when it comes to the level of talent on their rosters. He suggests that unless Pelinka can strike gold with more minimum-salary signings this summer, like he did with Malik Monk, James won’t show much patience when he hits free agency.

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • Rich Paul, who runs Klutch Sports, told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Monday that he never urged Pelinka to trade Russell Westbrook and a future first-round pick to the Rockets for John Wall (hat tip to Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll). Wall, a Klutch client who hasn’t played this season under a mutual agreement with Houston’s management, has a $44.3MM contract that matches up with Westbrook’s salary. According to Smith, Paul called the report a “damn lie” and said, “There is no truth. It never happened.”
  • L.A. probably won’t find a much better market for a Westbrook deal this summer, per Marc Stein of Substack. Westbrook will have a $47MM expiring contract once he exercises his option for next season, and Stein doesn’t expect the offers to be better than Wall’s expiring deal or a collection of bad contracts from the Knicks.
  • There’s no willingness among the leaders of the Lakers’ organization to accept responsibility for the decisions that led to this year’s downfall, observes Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. Front office members have taken turns denying their role in the decision to trade for Westbrook, Goon adds, and James has deflected his own involvement in the move.

Rob Pelinka Reportedly Frustrating Klutch Sports

Klutch Sports, the sports agency run by LeBron James‘s agent and friend Rich Paul, is reportedly frustrated with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

Multiple league sources inform Pincus that Klutch, which represents Los Angeles players James, Anthony Davis, and Talen Horton-Tucker, has grown agitated with Pelinka’s team-building after he opted not to send out underperforming $44.2MM point guard Russell Westbrook and a future Lakers first-round draft pick to the Rockets in exchange for inactive Houston point guard John Wall, currently netting a comparable salary of $44.3MM. Notably, Wall is a Klutch client, though Westbrook is not.

The 31-year-old Wall averaged 20.6 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.2 RPG and 1.1 SPG in just 40 games for a lottery-bound 2020/21 Rockets team. He and the Rockets mutually agreed that he would sit this season. Though Westbrook, 33, has been mostly healthy this year while averaging 18.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 7.5 RPG, his struggles as a shooter, defender, and late-game decision-maker haven’t helped the 27-31 Lakers’ cause this season.

James certainly seems to have had an impact on L.A.’s choice to trade for Westbrook in the first place. Though Pelinka had been planning to make a trade with the Kings for shooting guard Buddy Hield, he eventually opted to make the deal for Westbrook after Westbrook met with James over the summer.

The embattled team is currently the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference, a far cry from its anticipated standing when Pelinka traded for Westbrook during the 2021 offseason.

Pincus notes that James will become eligible to ink a two-year, $97.1MM contract extension with the Lakers on August 4 this year, that would keep him in Los Angeles through the 2024/25 NBA season. Should James and his representatives opt not to sign the extension, James would reach free agency in 2023. James is currently in the first season of a two-year, $85.7MM maximum-salary extension he signed with the Lakers ahead of 2020/21.

Harden Directly Asked Nets’ Marks, Tsai For Trade To Sixers

For much of the 2021/22 season, Nets guard James Harden insisted during conversations with general manager Sean Marks and team owner Joe Tsai that he wanted to remain in Brooklyn beyond this season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne (Insider link). And initially, signing a long-term deal with Brooklyn was Harden’s preferred option, since he could always force a trade down the road if he needed to.

However, as the season progressed, Harden began talking to various player agents to get advice about how best to make his way to Philadelphia, according to ESPN’s duo. As Wojnarowski and Shelburne detail, the Nets would often quickly learn what Harden – who has a reputation for being passive-aggressive rather than confrontational and was worried about the optics of making another trade request – was saying to agents and other third parties.

Finally, with the trade deadline fast approaching, Harden directly told Marks and Tsai that he would prefer to play for the Sixers, asking the GM and team owner on a FaceTime call to send him to Philadelphia, sources tell ESPN.

The Nets told him they would only make a deal if it was a good one for the organization, which Harden understood. While the two sides agreed at that point that Harden wouldn’t play until after Thursday’s deadline, the former MVP appeared to have already checked out on the team, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne, who say Harden informed management he was headed to Houston on Wednesday to wait out the deadline.

Here’s more from Wojnarowski and Shelburne on the Harden/Ben Simmons blockbuster:

  • Marks and Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey engaged in plenty of posturing in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline before eventually getting more serious late on Wednesday night, sources tell ESPN. Up until that point, Marks had listened to a couple of Morey’s trade pitches, but rebuffed them.
  • According to Wojnarowski and Shelburne, when the two sides reengaged and eventually neared the finish line on Thursday, Marks told Morey he needed to hang up the phone to run the proposed deal by Tsai, prompting Morey to yell, “Stay on the f—ing phone!” Marks jokingly replied, “We’re dropping F-Bombs now, Daryl?” He ultimately got Tsai’s approval to move forward on the trade.
  • Simmons’ agent Rich Paul met with Nets star Kevin Durant and Durant’s business partner Rich Kleiman nearly a month ago and pitched the idea of a Harden/Simmons swap, per Wojnarowski and Shelburne. Durant initially wasn’t interested in the idea, but the equation changed after he injured his knee and Harden became increasingly disengaged during his absence.
  • Harden doesn’t have a direct history with Sixers star Joel Embiid, but has always been a fan of the center and pushed Morey to trade for him when they were both in Houston, according to ESPN’s duo. “James respects players who do a good job defending him,” one source said. “And Joel has always done that.”
  • Although Simmons never got over what he viewed as a lack of public support from head coach Doc Rivers following last spring’s playoff loss to the Hawks, the two men had been speaking again in recent weeks, with conversations “increasing in substance,” per Woj and Shelburne. However, their final conversation on Thursday was mostly just an exchanging of pleasantries, sources tell ESPN.

And-Ones: I. Thomas, Trade Candidates, Lin, Noel, Draft

Team USA only won one of two games in the first round of qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup this week in Mexico, but veteran guard Isaiah Thomas played against both Cuba and Mexico, leading the U.S. with 42 total points and 13 assists in 49 minutes across the two contests.

After putting up 21 points in Team USA’s win over Cuba on Sunday, Thomas reiterated his desire to get back onto an NBA roster, while leaving the door open to the possibility of playing in an international league.

The ultimate goal is to get back in the NBA,” he said, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link). “I just love playing the game of basketball. So, obviously, at some point, if the NBA isn’t an option I’ve got to look at options overseas. … I love competing and I love playing.”

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • In the latest HoopsHype Podcast, Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan identified some potential trade candidates among the group of the players who will become eligible to be dealt on December 15 or January 15. Nuggets wing Will Barton, Pelicans swingman Josh Hart, Rockets center Daniel Theis, and a few Pistons veterans are among the players Scotto and Gozlan discussed.
  • Former NBA point guard Jeremy Lin has returned to the Beijing Ducks for another season, as EuroHoops relays. Lin, who has been out of the NBA since winning a title with Toronto in 2019, said in a statement that “playing basketball in China feels at home.”
  • After filing suit against his former agent Rich Paul, Knicks center Nerlens Noel now finds himself at odds with the players’ union. As Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic explains, the NBPA’s standard player agent contract states that disputes should be settled through arbitration, which Noel has circumvented by taking his issue with Paul to court.
  • ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz (Insider link) updated their top-100 big board for the 2022 NBA draft on Tuesday and shared some insights on several college prospects. Auburn’s Jabari Smith made a significant impression on Schmitz, who said he was “blown away” by what he saw from the 18-year-old and considers him a potential dark horse to be next year’s No. 1 pick.