Rob Pelinka

Lakers Notes: Simmons, Hart, Ball, Zubac

The Lakers released a statement stating that the Sixers had sought their permission for floor leader Ben Simmons to speak with team president Magic Johnson, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Philadelphia emailed the Lakers in November, according to the statement, asking if Simmons could speak with Johnson about his Hall of Fame career. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka subsequently told Sixers GM Elton Brand that Johnson could only do that with Philadelphia’s written pre-approval. That was the end of the matter, the release adds. The league has launched an investigation to determine if any communication between the parties violated league rules.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Guard Josh Hart received a PRP injection to treat tendinitis in his right knee, according to a team press release. Hart will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break, the release adds. Hart didn’t play in blowout losses against Indiana and Philadelphia and only lasted eight scoreless minutes against Boston.
  • Lonzo Ball isn’t considered a defensive specialist but the Lakers have missed him at that end of the court, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times notes. The Lakers’ defensive rating is the third-worst in the league in the nine games since Ball was sidelined by a severe ankle sprain. “He allows us to switch a lot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “If they want to run any pick and roll minus the center, the 1-5 pick and roll, we can just switch it. And we feel confident Lonzo can guard most of the other players there. We have Lonzo picking up full-court the other team’s points guard. He’s great at instincts, getting deflections.”
  • Trading young center Ivica Zubac to the Clippers to ‘rent’ power forward Mike Muscala doesn’t make much sense, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report argues. Zubac could have been an inexpensive, long-term contributor for the Lakers, Pincus continues. He would have been a restricted free agent with a modest cap hold of $1.9 million. Muscala’s cap hold is $9.5MM and he might not be any more productive than Zubac would have been the rest of this season.
  • LeBron James claims the reason he drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis for his All-Star team had nothing to do with recruiting, according to another Ganguli story. “That’s all part of the speculation that continues to drive our sport,” he said. “It’s all good and well and dandy, but for me I picked according to my draft board and I picked according to who was the best available.”

Atlantic Notes: B. Simmons, Lakers, Gasol, Knicks

Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson told reporters over the weekend that Ben Simmons had reached out to the team asking if he could get together with Johnson during the offseason to talk to him about playing in the NBA as a point guard with size. While Johnson suggested he’d be on board if the Sixers, the Lakers, and the NBA all signed off, it sounds like it won’t happen.

Appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia (Twitter link), Sixers GM Elton Brand said today that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka contacted him to ask for authorization and Brand said no “over a month ago.” Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link) hears a different account, citing a source who says that the 76ers initiated the discussion about Simmons wanting to meet with Johnson, with Pelinka calling Brand back to say the Lakers weren’t comfortable with it.

While it’s not clear which team shot down the idea first, neither side appears to be on board, so presumably Simmons and Johnson won’t meet this summer. The fact that the young 76er is represented by Rich Paul is sure to generate some speculation, but Ganguli tweets that Simmons’ desire to talk to Johnson was simply due to their on-court similarities, and he intends to be a Sixer for a long time.

Ganguli’s report won’t necessarily satisfy the NBA though. According to league spokesperson Mike Bass, the NBA is looking into whether there was any communication between Simmons and the Lakers that violated league rules (Twitter link via Ganguli).

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Marc Gasol waived the 15% trade kicker on his contract to help finalize the trade sending him to Toronto last week, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks on The Lowe Post podcast. While the trade bonus would only have been worth about $1.29MM, Gasol’s decision could save the Raptors about $3.2MM in projected tax penalties, as Blake Murphy of The Athletic notes (via Twitter).
  • Speaking of Gasol, the Raptors are still experimenting with a fluid frontcourt rotation as they figure out how to best use Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse said today (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca).
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a wide-ranging look at what the summer could bring for the Knicks and their two maximum-salary contract slots, from the “utopia” outcome to the “doomsday” scenario.

Lakers Notes: Pelinka, Team Chemistry, Additions

The Lakers missed out on Anthony Davis after heavy speculation that the team would send many of its young players out of town. The team did make a pair of trades, though its core of young prospects remains mostly intact.

GM Rob Pelinka was asked about the strain the rumors may have had on the team and how to repair it. Pelinka responded with a story about a pastor and his fiancee who were riding a trolley, as Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times passes along (Twitter link). Pelinka explained how 100 people tried to board the trolley and separate the two, leaving the couple with two options: Allow the people to get between them or hold each other close and allow the people around them to push the couple together.

Team chemistry will be an interesting storyline in Los Angeles as the season progresses. Here’s more on the Lakers and their plan to win games this season and beyond:

  • Pelinka and team president Magic Johnson met with coach Luke Walton prior to the trade deadline to talk about the roster, Ohn Youngmisuk of ESPN.com relays (ESPN Now link). Pelinka said that adding floor-spacing shooters was a “big need” for the team to be “effective” and he feels the Lakers addressed that need. Both Reggie Bullock, whom Pelinka calls an “elite” shooter, and Mike Muscala are expected to be available for Lakers on Sunday against the Sixers.
  • The Lakers are evaluating a “handful” of potential players to add from the buyout market, Pelinka said, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com tweets. The GM also added that the team is weighing whether or not to add someone now or wait to bring a player on board. Pelinka did not specifically address Carmelo Anthony when speaking with the reporters.
  • Pelinka hopes that the Lakers‘ new additions can have the type of impact Julian Edelman has for the Patriots, McMenamin relays in the full-length piece. “I almost look at Bullock and Muscala, my hope is, much like Edelman was,” Pelinka said. “It’s just one player, but that can have such a big impact on overall chemistry, and I hope those two guys can come in and have that impact.”
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report examines the Lakers‘ options this offseason should they again fail to trade for Davis. Pincus speculates that Los Angeles could look to add Nikola Vucevic or DeAndre Jordan in free agency or turn their attention to another star, such as Bradley Beal, on the trade market.

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Green, Cousins, Cauley-Stein

Lakers legend Kobe Bryant played a key role in bringing LeBron James to Los Angeles this summer, Sam Amick of The Athletic reveals in a new story.

Bryant, who spent his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, met with team owner Jeanie Buss in February of 2017 to deliver strong advice: Shake up the front office, start new and bring a new culture to the franchise.

“Jeanie, I know who we’re trying to get; we know who we’re trying to get, so that player is not going to come here with all of this s–t going on,” Bryant said, according to Amick. “It’s not going to happen. So if you do want to have that focus, and go after that player, then I’m telling you that you’ve gotta clean house, and you’ve gotta just reshuffle the deck and start anew. You have the new practice facility (the UCLA Health Training Center) that we’re just moving into (in the summer of 2017). We’ve got new management, and off we go. But that player is not coming here unless you do that.

“As a player, it’s like, listen, it’s a cultural thing. You’ve got to have the right culture around, especially for him at this stage of his career,” Bryant explained. “You don’t want to come to a team and deal with a bunch of bull—-, right? You don’t want to come here and be part of an organization where the walls are talking and stuff is getting out left and right and you have this camp and that camp. You don’t want to do that. So I said, ‘You’ve got to start anew.’”

Buss listened to Bryant’s advice, firing older brother Jim Buss and letting go of general manager Mitch Kupchak. In turn, the team promoted Magic Johnson to president of basketball operations and hired Rob Pelinka as new general manager. Fast forward to July of 2018, and the new-look Lakers convinced James to sign a free-agent contract.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

Lakers Notes: Ball, Walton, Johnson, James

The Lakers’ brass is encouraged by Lonzo Ball‘s revamped shooting stroke, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register reports. Ball still holds the ball further left than most right-handed shooters but it’s closer to the center than last season, Goon notes. Ball shot 36% from the field and 30.5% from long range during his rookie season. “The way he’s shooting the ball looks a lot more fluid now,“ GM Rob Pelinka said. Ball, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this summer, has been medically cleared for camp but won’t initially participate in five-on-five scrimmages, Joey Ramirez of the team’s website reports. “He’s been 100 percent cleared by our medical staff to return to full basketball activity,” Pelinka said.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Luke Walton‘s job status won’t be in jeopardy if the team gets off to a slow start, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. LeBron James needs time to settle in with his new teammates, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson says, and Walton won’t be penalized during that process. “As I was talking to Luke, we said don’t worry about if we get out to a bad start,” Johnson said. “We have seen that with LeBron going to Miami, and we have seen that when he came back to Cleveland. He is going to struggle because there are so many new moving parts.”
  • Johnson shrugs off criticism of controversial free agent signings following James’ commitment, including Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee, Matt Eppers of USA Today writes. “We love that they all are different individuals and they bring something different to the table,” Johnson said. “We needed some grittiness, we needed some toughness. We needed somebody to come in and be upset that somebody had a defensive lapse.”
  • Johnson can’t hide his enthusiasm over James’ impact, even before training camp officially opens. “LeBron comes in, and he’s already in midseason form and shooting fadeaways and 3-pointers from almost half-court,” Johnson said in an Associated Press report. “And you’re sitting there saying, ‘Man, thank God we signed him.’”
  • Brandon Ingram and Stephenson are the team’s top small forwards and Ramirez takes a closer look at all the options at the position.

Western Notes: Lakers, Beyer, Grant, Morey

The Lakers front office felt they couldn’t fight fire with fire to overtake the Warriors, so their offseason acquisitions beyond LeBron James were aimed toward another approach, as Kevin Ding explains in an extensive piece posted on the team’s website. By signing Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Michael Beasley, the Lakers signaled that they want to rise to the top in a different way. “To try to play the Warriors in their own game is a trap,” GM Rob Pelinka told Ding. “No one is going to beat them at their own game. That’s why we wanted to add these elements: defense, toughness and depth—and try to look at areas where we’ll have an advantage.”

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • The Thunder have added Bob Beyer to Billy Donovan‘s coaching staff, according to a team press release. Beyer spent the last four seasons on Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons staff, serving as the associate head coach the past two seasons. His NBA coaching experience dates back to the 2003/04 season as an assistant with the Raptors.
  • Thunder forward Jerami Grant anticipates a bigger role during the upcoming season after signing a multi-year contract, as he told Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype in a Q&A session. Grant appeared in 81 games last season, averaging 8.4 PPG and 3.9 RPG in 20.3 MPG. He anticipates even more playing time with the departure of Carmelo Anthony. “I’m definitely excited to be able to play extensive minutes and play important minutes on a contender. Getting a chance to show what you can do while being part of an organization like this, being part of a team like this, it means a lot. They’ve shown a lot of trust in me by giving me this new contract and [and a bigger role].” Grant signed a three-year, $27MM contract to remain with OKC.
  • Rockets GM Daryl Morey is just as curious as anyone how DeMarcus Cousins will fit in with the Warriors, as he told radio host Dan Patrick in comments relayed by NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman. “They’ll probably figure out how to make it work, but it’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work. But we do that well and so do they, obviously. They’re gonna be a tough out again, obviously. They’re arguably the best team in NBA history,” Morey said.

Lakers Rumors: Magic Johnson, Free Agency, George

No NBA team projects to have more cap room next week than the Lakers, who have long been considered the club most likely to make a splash during the 2018 free agent period. Speaking today to reporters though, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson dismissed the idea that he’s stressing his ability to deliver star free agents to Los Angeles in the coming days.

“I’m Magic Johnson,” Johnson said, per Bill Oram of The Athletic (Twitter link). “You know how many Finals I’ve been in? So you think I’m worried about this? I played against Larry Bird in the Finals. I played in nine Finals.”

As Johnson explains, he feels “no pressure” to land a marquee free agent or two next week, since he and the Lakers’ front office don’t consider 2018 the team’s only chance to make a major free agent addition. According to Johnson, the Lakers will remain “disciplined” and are prepared to retain their cap room for 2019 if free agency doesn’t play out like they hope this time around.

“We’re excited about free agency,” Johnson said, according to Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet (Twitter link). “We know we had two summers to deal with. We have the cap space and flexibility. We’re looking forward to July but we’re not putting all our marbles into one summer.”

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Johnson may not be putting any pressure on himself during 2018’s free agent period, but he sounds like he fully expects the Lakers to make impact moves in at least one of the next two summers. Speaking to reporters today, the Lakers legend suggested he may even resign if the Lakers strike out in back-to-back summers in 2018 and 2019. “It’s going to be a two-summer thing for the Lakers,” Johnson said, per Oram (Twitter link). “This summer and next summer. That’s it. If I can’t deliver, I’m going to step down myself. [Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss] won’t have to fire me, I’ll step away from it, because I can’t do this job.”
  • Buss said on Monday that she has “complete faith” in Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka as free agency nears, adding that she’d “really like” to see the Lakers in the playoffs next season. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has the story, including more quotes from Buss.
  • Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated obtained a portion of an apparent Lakers recruiting pitch to Paul George. The leak includes a script for a voice-over that will seemingly be used in a video presentation to a free agent from Palmdale, George’s hometown.

Lakers Finding Resistance In Making Deals

If the Lakers are going to build the NBA’s next superteam, they shouldn’t expect much help from their competitors, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

L.A., which hopes to have enough cap room to offer two max deals and is the preferred destination for Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, ran into some resistance at last night’s draft. GM Rob Pelinka was hoping to acquire a pick early in the second round, but he couldn’t find another franchise that was willing to trade.

“So it’s not like teams are saying, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do a deal with the Lakers,’ but I do think when you have 16 banners, there’s going to be a natural envy from your competitors because you’re sitting at the top of the food chain, but that’s just life in general,” Pelinka said.

That follows a report on Thursday that the Lakers reached out to San Antonio last week about Leonard’s availability, but the Spurs “basically shut the door” on any trade talks. Leonard, who is unhappy with how the team handled his quad injury, will have the chance to opt out of his current contract and become a free agent next summer.

Leonard’s availability may affect how the Lakers plan their future, as Pelinka said the team will focus its resources on 2019 if it can’t attract its free agent targets this year. Those include Thunder forward Paul George, who has also talked about returning to L.A. to play for his hometown team, and Cavaliers star LeBron James.

“We do feel like the road is a flexible road for us; if July 1 happens with one or two superstar players, great,” Pelinka added. “If it doesn’t, we love this young core that we’re developing and we know 2019 could present some amazing opportunities as well. So really any road we go down we’re really confident in, but obviously for Lakers fans we want to be good, we want to be back in the playoffs where Lakers deserve to be and competing for a championship.”

Along with chasing their desired targets, the Lakers have a few free agents of their own to be concerned about. Julius Randle is in line for a huge raise, although he is restricted and L.A. can match any offer, and Isaiah Thomas, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Channing Frye are all unrestricted.

One move the Lakers won’t make is taking a chance on LiAngelo Ball, brother of point guard Lonzo Ball, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne (Twitter link). LiAngelo has been informed that he will not be part of L.A.’s summer league team, with one source telling Shelburne, “obviously there’s more to it than basketball.” She takes that as a signal that the organization doesn’t want any deeper involvement with the Ball family and its patriarch, LaVar.

Lakers Have ‘Complete Faith’ In Luke Walton

Despite not publicly expressing support for their head coach in the wake of comments made by LaVar Ball this past weekend, the Lakers have “complete faith” in Luke Walton, a person with knowledge of the club’s thinking tells Sam Amick of USA Today. The same source tells Amick that the Lakers have no regrets about using the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft to select Lonzo Ball.

Speaking to ESPN in Lithuania, Lonzo Ball‘s father suggested over the weekend that Walton had lost his players’ confidence, but that assertion hasn’t been corroborated by any public or private sources in recent days. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on Sunday that Walton’s job status was “not even a conversation” for the Lakers’ brass, and Amick’s report today further confirms that the franchise still envisions Walton as a potential long-term head coach.

According to Amick, the support for Walton goes all the way to ownership, though there has been silence from the front office and ownership since LaVar Ball spoke out. In a separate piece, Amick questions why the Lakers haven’t issued any public statements on the issue, noting that there would be a way to do it without mentioning LaVar or offending the Ball family.

With no comment from Magic Johnson or Rob Pelinka on the subject this week, rival coaches from around the NBA have jumped in to defend Walton and to rip ESPN for their handling of the elder Ball’s comments. Lakers players such as Kyle Kuzma have also endorsed Walton, with Kuzma telling reporters that he “loves” playing for the L.A. head coach.

We stand by Luke,” Kuzma said on Monday. “I know the front office does.”

Walton is in the second year of a five-year contract worth a reported $25MM.

Latest on Lakers-Ball Controversy

Lakers coach Luke Walton is more concerned about the distraction caused by LaVar Ball’s comments about him than his job security, sources told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. Ball, in comments published by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, created a firestorm when Ball said Walton had lost the team and no one wanted to play for him. Ball had met with president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka in late November after the father of rookie guard Lonzo Ball publicly criticized Walton. The elder Ball promised to tone down his act, so both he and Johnson must be held accountable now, Shelburne opines, as Ball went back on his word and Johnson failed to immediately defend his coach. The club needs to take a harsher stance against LaVar Ball or risk being dragged into one controversy after another, Shelburne concludes.

In other developments regarding the Lakers/Ball situation:

  • Rookie forward Kyle Kuzma gave a ringing endorsement of Walton, as Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times tweets: “Luke is my guy. I love playing for him. … We stand by Luke. I know the front office does.”
  • The National Basketball Coaches Association issued a statement condemning Goodman’s report, calling it “reprehensible and insulting.” The coaches felt that ESPN should have done more research before publishing Ball’s comments. “The story failed to provide quotes or perspectives from any players, or from Lakers management, either named or unnamed, verifying the claims made in the story. The article lacks any of the basic fundamental benchmarks and standards of reliable journalism,” the statement read in part.
  • Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy chimed in on the situation and ripped ESPN for reporting Ball’s comments as news. “I thought it was a cheap shot and I thought ESPN showed total disrespect,” Van Gundy told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press and other media members. “I don’t have a problem with LaVar Ball. He’s a grown man. He can voice whatever opinion he wants. I got a problem with ESPN deciding that’s a story.”
  • ESPN had every right to publish Ball’s comments and the real burden falls on the Lakers, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman opines. The team brought on these issues by drafting Ball, knowing all about his attention-grabbing father. If Goodman hadn’t reported it, someone else would have, according to Tramel.
  • Johnson, Pelinka and Walton must find a way to rebuild the franchise’s culture, according to Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports. The team is hoping to land two high-level free agents but that won’t happen if it’s perceived to be in disarray, Mannix adds.