Rich Paul

And-Ones: Jokubaitis, Banton, LeBron, R. Paul

Point guard Rokas Jokubaitis has declared for this year’s draft, Lithuanian journalist Donatas Urbonas tweets. Jokubaitis is currently ranked No. 42 on ESPN’s Best Available list. Playing for Žalgiris Kaunas of the Lithuanian Basketball League and the EuroLeague, the 20-year-old averaged 7.0 PPG and 2.5 APG in 20.9 MPG in 31 games this season.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • Nebraska’s Dalano Banton has declared for the draft, according to his Twitter feed. The sophomore swingman averaged 9.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 3.9 APG last season. Banton played a season at Western Kentucky.
  • LeBron James‘ agent, Rich Paul, explained in a feature written by the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner why his top client didn’t skip this year’s All-Star Game after expressing dismay about playing the game during the pandemic. “You have to value what drives our business,” Paul said. “All-Star weekend is a very important part of our business. To not have the All-Star Game, or not have all-stars playing in the All-Star Game, I think that would be a form of doing bad business. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to always feel up to doing something.”
  • In the same piece, a current NBA general manager said James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, which ushered in an era of player empowerment, was the “worst thing” to happen to not only the NBA but sports in general. “Player empowerment is a catchall for the fact that the league has done a terrible job of empowering teams,” he said. “The players have all of the leverage in every situation. I think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to professional sports on all levels.” 

Texas Notes: Walker, Austin Spurs, Assistant Coaches

Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV has new representation. Rich Paul and Lucas Newton of Klutch Sports are Walker’s new agents, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN (Twitter link). Klutch also represents Walker’s teammates Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles.

Walker remains on his rookie contract with the Spurs. He will become eligible for a rookie scale extension in 2021 and – if he doesn’t sign a new deal early – would reach restricted free agency in 2022.

There’s more from the Lone Star State:

  • The Spurs‘ G League affiliate, the Austin Spurs, have promoted assistant Matt Nielsen to head coach, and named former assistant general manager Tyler Self the new GM, according to a team press release.
  • The Rockets continue to remake their personnel beyond the hardwood. New head coach Stephen Silas has added Magic player development coach Rick Higgins, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link), and former Sydney Kings head coach Will Weaver, per Marc Stein of the New York Times (Twitter link).
  • Per a team press release, the Spurs have promoted Mitch Johnson to fill Tim Duncan‘s role on Gregg Popovich‘s bench and have also named Darius Songalia an assistant coach. Duncan, a Hall of Fame power forward and five-time champion with the club, will return to his more informal player development duties with the team for 2020/21.

Draft Notes: Avdija, Paul, Maxey, Bey

Deni Avdija is one of the few draft prospects who has played competitive basketball in the past seven months, writes Krysten Peek of Yahoo Sports. The Israeli forward, who is considered a top five-pick by some draft analysts, elected to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Winner League tournament in June and was named league MVP.

“There was a choice to either rest before the draft and just work out or play,” Avdija said. “Me, I’m competitive. I couldn’t leave my teammates and my coaches so I thought I needed to fight, and I wanted to win this championship to go off in a good and positive way.”

Avdija is already a fan favorite in Israel. He was only 16 when he signed with Maccabi in 2017, becoming the youngest player in team history. He was also part of the Israel junior national team that won the European Championships in 2018 and 2019. Avdija has been in Atlanta since August, working out with fellow European prospect Theo Maledon and waiting for his shot at the NBA.

“I hope to show teams how big of a competitor I am. How I love to win and how I’ll always challenge myself,” Avdija said. “I just want to show them it’s just me being me, playing my game, practicing as hard as I can, shooting the ball, rebounding, playmaking, things I usually do well and we’ll see how it goes.”

There’s more draft news to pass along:

  • Agent Rich Paul is responding to complaints about a televised Pro Day held this week for Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Maxey, according to Jack Baer of Yahoo Sports. Some rival agents claimed the event gave too much exposure to Paul’s clients. “When black it’s discredited, it’s critiqued, narratives are driven,” Paul wrote on Instagram. “It’s a shock when the black athlete isn’t making the black agent work for free, or feel as if it’s a privilege to represent them but instead respect their practice and expertise. Why?”
  • Maxey showed off a revamped jump shot during his 20-minute session, observes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Using a higher release point than he did at Kentucky, Maxey drilled five straight three-pointers in his workout. “I was able to show I can knock down my outside shot consistently — catch-and-shoot, off the move — and I was able to show my conditioning because nobody has seen me because of COVID-19,’’ he said.
  • Colorado’s Tyler Bey set an NBA combine record for forwards with a 43.5-inch max vertical leap, tweets Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report. Bey is No. 28 on ESPN’s list of the top 100 draft prospects.

Pacific Notes: Baynes, Lecque, Clippers, Warriors

Suns free agent Aron Baynes is non-committal on a potential return with the team, but the 33-year-old admits he enjoyed his time in Phoenix, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes.

Baynes, who averaged a career-high 11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 22.2 minutes in 42 games this season, is set to reach the open market once the NBA finalizes a date for free agency to begin.

“I loved my time in Phoenix,” Baynes said. “I knew what it was coming in here and I was able to go out there and take advantage of the role that was given to me throughout a number of different situations. I enjoyed it. I loved playing with the guys here.”

Baynes is an eight-year NBA veteran and was part of the 2014 championship Spurs team. Before discussing his future any further, he understands the importance of the league coming to terms on a new salary cap for next season, one that could drastically impact what he receives in free agency.

“Trying to find out those numbers before anything can be thought of for the next season. It’s a waiting game,” Baynes said. “Our two biggest players in the sport right now, what are they going to come to an agreement with. Until that salary cap number is put out there for everyone to understand and work with, there’s really nothing that can be done. There’s no conversations that will be had.”

Here are some other notes from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns guard Jalen Lecque has signed with agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports for representation, the agency announced on social media. Klutch also recently welcomed Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball and Raptors forward OG Anunoby to a mix that already includes players such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Ben Simmons.
  • Jovan Buha of The Athletic examines three critical questions the Clippers must address this offseason. Los Angeles was eliminated from the playoffs after a seven-game duel with the Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals last month, a disappointing ending for a team with championship aspirations. The club is likely to shuffle its 10-man rotation ahead of next season as a result, Buha reports.
  • Monte Poole of NBC Sports examines a series of notes related to the Warriors, including Klay Thompson‘s rehab, Eric Paschall‘s conditioning, and more. Golden State coped with an injury-riddled 2019/20 season, accruing the worst record in the league at 15-50. “It helps to get a really good look at everybody,” coach Steve Kerr said of the team’s mini-camp, which did not include Stephen Curry or Draymond Green. “Seeing them play, seeing them on the court, you start to get a sense of who might fit where and who could play what role and what your strengths and weaknesses are. We know Steph and Draymond so well that it’s easy to envision the group with them. This week has given us a better idea of what we need to look for.”

Lakers Notes: LeBron/Buss Dinner, WCF, AD, Lineup

Near the end of a rocky first season together, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and All-Star LeBron James sat down for their first dinner together at Wally’s Beverly Hills in March 2019, alongside James’ agent Rich Paul and Lakers executive Linda Rambis. It was here that the foundation was laid for this season’s relatively drama-free Lakers run in 2019/20, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

“We’re committed to you and we’ll come out of this on top,” Paul told Buss during the dinner, according to a conversation with Shelburne. “We’ll come out of this different than what the world sees. Let the people who talk, talk. We just gotta do the work.”

Shelburne notes that forging this more personal bond helped stabilize the club.

There’s more out of Los Angeles:

  • The Lakers’ competition in the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets, have earned the respect of Los Angeles’ marquee player, after coming back twice from 3-1 deficits in the 2020 playoffs, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN“It takes a lot of energy, effort, a lot of desperation to be able to come back from a 3-1 deficit,” James said after a team practice today. “They did it twice. So the respect level is out of this world for what we have for this ball club.”
  • Lakers stars James and Anthony Davis have instilled a hardworking mindset that has proved effective this season among their teammates, per Mark Medina of USA Today. “They’ve been the rocks and heart and souls of our team all year,” power forward Kyle Kuzma said of LeBron and AD. “If we don’t do our jobs, they don’t have the success that they have.”
  • Los Angeles is ready to make lineup adjustments against the Nuggets to best handle Denver All-Star center Nikola Jokic, according to Tania Ganguli of the LA Times. Frank Vogel appeared to indicate that he’ll return to playing centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, who got minimal run during the Lakers’ more speed-oriented attack against the Rockets during the semifinals. Forward Markieff Morris, a solid three-point shooter, started at center in McGee’s stead during most of the Houston series. “In terms of how much we’ll use our centers, I don’t want to get too much into detail, but obviously we’re gonna be the L.A. Lakers, who we’ve been all year,” Vogel said. Starting center McGee is currently on the first year of a two-season, $8.2MM contract with the team, while reserve Howard is on a one-year veteran’s minimum deal.

Lonzo Ball Changes Agents Again, Signs With Klutch

As he prepares to enter his fourth season as an NBA player, Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball will be represented by a fourth different agent since entering the league. Ball has signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, he tells Malika Andrews of ESPN.

The second overall pick in the 2017 draft, Ball was initially represented by family friend Harrison Gaines. After deciding to part ways with Gaines in April 2019, the former UCLA star joined CAA, then signed with Roc Nation in June 2020. Roc Nation announced on June 15 that Lonzo and brothers LaMelo Ball and LiAngelo Ball had joined the agency, so Lonzo’s stint at Roc Nation apparently lasted less than three months.

Ball’s latest change in representation comes ahead of a crucial offseason, as he’ll become eligible for a rookie scale extension for the first time once the 2020/21 league year begins. If Ball and the Pelicans don’t reach an agreement before next season starts, he’ll become a restricted free agent during the 2021 offseason.

Paul often opts to take top clients to free agency rather than agreeing to early extensions, so the Pelicans probably shouldn’t expect to sign Ball to a team-friendly contract in the coming months. The 22-year-old also sounds motivated to boost his stock during the 2020/21 season, suggesting to Andrews that he hopes to follow in the footsteps of teammate Brandon Ingram.

“For myself, I think Most Improved Player is definitely something I can get next year,” Ball told ESPN.

And-Ones: Klutch, T. Young, Blazers, Jazz

Veteran NBA agent Omar Wilkes has left Octagon Sports and will become the head of basketball at Klutch Sports, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports that the move will create a path for Rich Paul to “expand his scope” as the company’s CEO. Although Paul will continue to work with Klutch’s basketball clients, the hiring of Wilkes will allow him to commit more time to the agency’s newer MLB and NFL divisions, Woj adds.

Wilkes’ most noteworthy client at Octagon, rising Hawks star Trae Young, has cut ties with the agency and appears likely to follow Wilkes to Klutch, writes Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Chris Kirschner of The Athletic cautions that CAA and Roc Nation have reached out as well, but says Young figures to end up with Klutch, since he and Wilkes are “incredibly close” (Twitter links).

Cam Reddish, OG Anunoby, and draft prospect Anthony Edwards were among Wilkes’ other clients at Octagon. It’s unclear whether they’ll remain at Octagon or stick with Wilkes as he makes the move to Klutch.

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

  • A pair of sports representation agencies – Tandem and You First – have merged, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski relays (via Twitter). Tandem president Jim Tanner will be the president of basketball for the merged firm, which will rebrand with a new name, tweets Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. Between them, Tandem and You First represent a number of notable NBA players, including Ja Morant, Kristaps Porzingis, and Serge Ibaka.
  • The coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on the Trail Blazers‘ operations, according to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, who reports that the team laid off about 40 employees – 15% of its workforce – and reduced salaries for anyone in a director role. The cuts affected multiple departments and also impacted the team’s arena management company, Rip City Management, per Freeman.
  • In an interesting piece for The Athletic, Seth Partnow makes a case against the 82-game season, suggesting that the NBA has an opportunity to experiment in 2020/21, with the season tentatively scheduled to start at least a month or two later than usual.
  • The Salt Lake City Stars took home a pair of NBA G League end-of-season awards, with Martin Schiller earning Coach of the Year honors and VP of basketball operations Bart Taylor named Basketball Executive of the Year. The Jazz‘ NBAGL affiliate finished the 2019/20 season with a 30-12 record, giving the Stars a comfortable hold on the No. 1 seed in the West.

And-Ones: Anthony, Thibodeau, R. Paul, No. 1 Picks

Former NBA big man Joel Anthony has been hired by the Hamilton Honey Badgers, a Canadian team, as a player consultant, the club announced in a press release. Anthony, a Canadian himself, appeared in nearly 500 regular season NBA games from 2008-17, winning a pair of titles with Miami.

“Joel Anthony brings extensive playing experience at the highest level of basketball that will help in the development of our players this season,” Honey Badgers general manager Jermaine Anderson said in a statement. “… He has learned the game under the guidance of coaches such as Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens, and Stan Van Gundy. He has a lot to offer our players, coaches, and staff.”

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

  • Appearing on The Woj Pod this week with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, veteran NBA head coach Tom Thibodeau talked about what he has learned since being let go by the Timberwolves, addressing load management, the increased size of coaching staffs, and more. Ian Begley of SNY.tv shares a few of highlights from Thibodeau, who is expected to be a candidate for the Knicks‘ job and others later this year.
  • With Klutch Sports branching out beyond basketball to represent football and baseball stars as well, agent Rich Paul spoke to Joe Vardon of The Athletic about that transition. The conversation also touched on several other topics, including whether or not Paul would have advised Darius Bazley to play in the G League if the NBAGL’s professional path had looked two years ago like it does now.
  • With his usual NBA power rankings column on hiatus, Zach Harper of The Athletic tries his hand at ranking all 70 first overall picks in NBA history, from the best (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and LeBron James) to the worst (LaRue Martin, Gene Melchiorre, and Anthony Bennett).

Eastern Conference Notes: Thompson, Sixers, Horford, Knicks

Kevin Love doesn’t want to see long-time teammate Tristan Thompson get traded, but he understands it might be the best move for both him and the organization, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. The Cavaliers are reportedly seeking a first-round pick in return for Thompson, who will be a free agent this summer. If Cleveland can’t find an acceptable deal, management still has interest in re-signing the 28-year-old center or possibly working out a sign-and-trade.

“That’s my brother, man,” Love said. “I would always go to war with him. I would run through a wall for him. He’s the best. Just the type of guy he is, he’s a lifelong friend of mine, so it would be tough to see him go. I would like to have him around selfishly, but if there’s a better situation out there for him, going to make him happier, have a chance to win a championship, then so be it. I only know Tristan Thompson as a Cavalier and I like it that way.”

There’s more from the Eastern Conference as the trade deadline draws nearer:

  • Trey Burke, Kyle O’Quinn and Jonah Bolden were all absent from the Sixers‘ shootaround this morning, tweets Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Philadelphia has to trim two players from its roster by 3pm Eastern to complete a trade that will bring Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from the Warriors in exchange for three second-round draft picks.
  • Al Horford hinted at trouble in the Sixers‘ locker room in comments after Wednesday’s practice, relays Jon Johnson of KYW Radio (Twitter link). “There’s some stuff going on in our locker room,” Horford said, “and we’ll keep that internal.”
  • A pair of Knicks youngsters have signed with Rich Paul and Klutch Sports for representation. Ian Begley of SNY.tv reports (via Twitter) that Mitchell Robinson is one of Paul’s newest clients, while Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter) says Allonzo Trier has joined Klutch Sports too.

Lakers Notes: Caruso, Rondo, KCP, McGee

Lakers guard Alex Caruso received assurances from the new coaching staff that he’d have a legitimate chance to make the rotation before he agreed to re-sign, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register reports.

Caruso’s conversation with coach Frank Vogel convinced him to ink a two-year, $5.5MM deal in July, though Caruso did not receive a bigger offer in the early stages of free agency.

“I knew there was opportunity,” Caruso said. “Coach Vogel called me when I was pretty close to making a decision and said there’s opportunity for minutes and that’s all I’ve ever needed in my career.”

Vogel has delivered on that pledge. Caruso has played in 27 of 29 games, averaging 5.4 PPG in 20.4 MPG.

Goon provided a number of other insights regarding the players who re-signed with the Lakers in free agency:

  • Rajon Rondo knew when he agreed to a two-year, $5.26MM contract with a player option that he’d have a reduced role. Rondo has appeared in 17 games, averaging 7.7 PPG and 5.6 APG in 21.36 MPG. “Very transparent,” the veteran point guard said of the front office’s plans for him. “Told me my role coming in, what they expected from me and how I could be a part of this run we’re trying to make.”
  • Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said it wasn’t a slam dunk he’d return, even though agent Rich Paul also represents the Lakers superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis“I wanted to be back, but with my agent, went through the process of free agency,” he said. “Pros and cons, where I want to be. It was all about what I wanted, and we just took it from there.” Caldwell-Pope signed an incentive-laden two-year, $19MM deal with a player option.
  • Center JaVale McGee was intent on returning, especially when he learned that Davis preferred to play power forward, opening a starting spot for him. McGee took a two-year, $8.2MM deal with a player option. He’s averaging 7.1 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 27 starts. “I felt like this is the best opportunity for me to possibly start and win the championship out of any other team,” he said. “I took it.”