Rob Pelinka

Pacific Notes: Suns, Ayton, Fox, Haliburton, Lakers

Suns players met with head coach Monty Williams and general manager James Jones when the allegations against team owner Robert Sarver broke early in November, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Although the players haven’t said much publicly about those allegations, they got information about the situation and discussed it internally during those meetings.

“We have a communicative group,” Suns star Devin Booker said. “We talk to each other a lot. We keep everything in house. It’s a tight-knit group. We speak on everything, and we share with each other how we feel about it, and nobody else finds out how we feel about things.”

The Sarver allegations could’ve become a distraction for a franchise that exceeded expectations in 2020/21 and got off to a 1-3 start this season, but the Suns have avoided letting that happen. They’ve won 12 consecutive games since the story broke, extending their overall winning streak to 14 games. They’ll be looking to push that number to 15 on Friday in New York.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • After not signing a contract extension in the offseason, Suns center Deandre Ayton is focused on continuing to improve and expand his game as he nears restricted free agency. “I saw the flaws and the mistakes and stuff that I should’ve done in the playoffs and Finals, especially the Finals,” Ayton said this week, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “I didn’t like the way I performed in the Finals. … Like I said from the beginning of the season, I’m trying to be more of a threat. … I’m trying to make a mark and trying to get used to certain things I wasn’t used to doing.”
  • The Kings made a head coaching change on Sunday, but there’s no indication that a major roster shakeup is around the corner, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, who hears that guards De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton remain off-limits in trade talks.
  • Lakers head coach Frank Vogel figures to face scrutiny if the team continues to struggle this season, but Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times preaches patience and thinks general manager Rob Pelinka should be careful about how he handles the situation. If Vogel were to be let go, there would be “no one left standing between Pelinka and the firing squad,” Hernandez writes, adding that Vogel is a defensive-minded coach who lost many of his best defenders in the offseason.

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Horton-Tucker, Nunn, Offseason Moves

The Lakers’ roster isn’t constructed to withstand prolonged absences from star forward LeBron James, Dylan Hernandez writes in a column for The Los Angeles Times. With James still sidelined on Wednesday, the Lakers lost in Milwaukee to drop to 8-8 on the season, including 4-6 in games without LeBron available.

When the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook in the offseason, it was viewed in part as an insurance policy after James and Anthony Davis missed time due to injuries in 2020/21. The thinking was that if one of the Lakers’ two returning stars went down for an extended period, the club would now have a third star in Westbrook to help carry the load. However, Westbrook has been inconsistent during his first month as a Laker, raising the stakes of LeBron’s return, writes Hernandez.

Fortunately for L.A., it sounds as if James should be back very soon. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier this week that there’s “growing optimism” the 36-year-old will be able to play on Friday in Boston.

That’s not a lock, however. While James said on Wednesday that he hopes to return vs. the Celtics, head coach Frank Vogel is still referring to him as day-to-day and sources told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that there’s only a “50-50” chance he’ll be available on Friday.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Since returning from his thumb injury, Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker has started all three games and is making a strong case to remain in the starting five, writes Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group. Horton-Tucker had perhaps his best game yet on Wednesday, with 25 points and 12 rebounds. “Sometimes scoring off the bench is what you need,” Vogel said of Horton-Tucker. “But he’s playing as good as anybody from a standpoint of both sides of the ball. What he’s given to us on defense and what he’s given to us on offense. So he’s been terrific in his first few games back and he’ll have a big role. He’s definitely made a case (to continue starting).”
  • Third-year guard Kendrick Nunn, who has yet to debut for the Lakers after signing a two-year, $10MM deal in August, isn’t with the team on its current road trip, tweets Bill Oram of The Athletic. Nunn continues to do rehab work on the bone bruise in his right knee.
  • The Lakers’ slow start has made it easier to second-guess Rob Pelinka‘s summer roster moves, Oram says in a story for The Athletic. According to various reports, L.A. had a chance to trade for DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield and to re-sign Alex Caruso, but passed on those opportunities. Acquiring Westbrook closed the door on the DeRozan and Hield scenarios, but re-signing Caruso was simply a matter of how far into the tax the organization was willing to go.

Pacific Notes: Warriors, Lakers, Davis, Hield, Kings

Draymond Green was on board with the Warriors‘ selections at Nos. 7 and 14, according to president of basketball operations Bob Myers, who said Green texted him with the names “(Jonathan) Kuminga” and “(Moses) Moody” a few spots before Golden State was on the clock for each selection (video link via Anthony Slater of The Athletic).

Myers also said in his post-draft press conference that the Warriors will need to add some veteran players in free agency. After weeks of rumors that Golden State was looking into trading its lottery picks for veteran contributors, the team ended up using those selections to draft an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old, making a massive bet on its player development program, Slater writes for The Athletic.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • An earlier report indicated that when LeBron James and Anthony Davis spoke to Russell Westbrook about teaming up in Los Angeles, the Lakers‘ stars expressed a willingness to play more at positions they’ve resisted in the past (power forward for James, center for Davis). Jovan Buha of The Athletic confirms (via Twitter) that the plan is, in fact, to have Davis play more minutes at center next season.
  • With his deal to land Westbrook, Lakers president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka provided a reminder that he’s one of the NBA’s “most audacious operators,” says Bill Oram of The Athletic.
  • The Kings, who had been in serious discussions with the Lakers about a Buddy Hield trade, will now have to pivot and explore other options for Hield after L.A. chose to use its assets to acquire Westbrook instead, writes Jason Jones of The Athletic.
  • Kings general manager Monte McNair on Thursday when he used the No. 9 pick to add Davion Mitchell to a crowded backcourt headlined by De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. However, McNair isn’t worried about the positional overlap, as James Ham of NBC Sports California relays. “Best player available and Davion just won a national championship in a three-guard lineup,” McNair said, referring to a Baylor team that featured Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague.

Western Notes: Pelinka, Hetzel, Finley, Brunson, Rockets

Mental toughness is one of the things the Lakers focus on regarding draft prospects, Jovan Buha of the Los Angeles Times writes. They have devised a 90-second shooting drill, among others, to help determine how well players can perform under pressure.

“It’s really a test of, ‘OK, it’s one thing to walk in the gym fresh and move and shoot and be effective. But how are you playing basketball once you’re exhausted, once you’re past your limits?’” president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka said. “Because that’s the fourth quarter. That’s when the game’s on the line. Can you perform at a high level when you’ve spent everything you have? And that’s the mentality that we know Kobe (Bryant) always played with. And so we have drills that test that fortitude.”

The Lakers hold the No. 22 pick, though they might trade it to help improve the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Buha adds.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Steve Hetzel is expected to join Chauncey Billups’ Trail Blazers’ staff, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report tweets. Hetzel had been on the Magic’s staff under former head coach Steve Clifford.
  • Michael Finley is finalizing a new contract with the Mavericks which will give him a larger role in their front office as assistant GM and VP of player personnel under new president of basketball operations Nico Harrison, Marc Stein of Substack tweets. Finley had been Dallas’ VP of basketball operations for the past six seasons.
  • Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, who could become an unrestricted free agent next summer, might be part of any major trade the team makes in the coming days, Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News writes. Brunson, whose $1.82MM salary must be guaranteed on August 1st, is a valuable asset the Mavs could use to reel in a bigger target, Townsend notes.
  • The Rockets have forged a partnership with Credit Karma Money as their new uniform patch sponsor, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. The Rockets played last season without a uniform patch sponsor after the agreement with ROKiT cell phones ended before the 2020 summer restart.

Pacific Notes: Ayton, K. Jones, Lakers, Warriors

Deandre Ayton, fresh off of his first NBA Finals appearance with the Suns, is eligible for a five-year, $168MM max contract that would kick in at the start of the 2022/23 season, and Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic takes a look at what could be next for the big man.

Ayton’s career lows in PPG and APG were a result more of the context of adding Chris Paul and reorganizing the offense, rather than any regression on Ayton’s end, Rankin writes. In fact, Ayton’s growth as a team-first player willing to do whatever it takes for the success of the Suns adds even more appeal for the club as it decides if it will offer him a max deal.

If sacrificing is leading the wins and where we are today, I’ll sacrifice everything, you know what I’m saying,” Ayton said. “Everything (Paul’s) told me has led up to here, so why stop now?

We have more news from the Pacific Division:

Pacific Notes: Booker, Ayton, Lakers, Draft

After falling 123-119 to the Bucks, the Suns find themselves on the brink of losing the 2021 NBA Finals. They have their sights squarely set on a must-win Game 6 on Tuesday. Mark Medina of USA Today opines that the club may be relying too much on the production of 24-year-old All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker.

“We know what Book can do with the ball, but the one thing we talked about was getting to the paint, finding guys on the back side,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said of the ball sticking with Booker. “We feel like that’s a formula.”

Medina contends that the Suns suffered due to their dependence on Booker to bail out possessions with isolation scoring.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Suns center Deandre Ayton – who has thrived during a breakout postseason, his first playoff appearance – welcomes the challenge of a must-win Game 6, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. “I like it. It’s fun; the tables are turned now,” Ayton said. “Now we’re the desperate team. We had our chances of being up and trying to finish the job, now we’re in the same position that they were in. They’re up, and now we got to go get it. That’s why it’s a little bit more fun.” The top pick in the 2018 draft, Ayton is eligible for a contract extension during the 2021 offseason. His recent play should earn him a maximum-salary offer or something close to it.
  • The Lakers, who own the No. 22 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft, hosted 6’5″ Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and 6’4″ Tennessee guard Jaden Springer during their latest pre-draft workouts Saturday, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Both guards are good shooters who could help space the floor for L.A.
  • The Lakers need to land a win-now type of player in the 2021 draft with their No. 22 selection, opines Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. Goon notes that the Lakers front office, under the stewardship of Rob Pelinka, last retained a first-round pick through the draft in 2018, when the club selected center Moritz Wagner out of Michigan — however, Wagner did not last long in L.A., having been sent to Washington in the Anthony Davis blockbuster. The team appears determined to add shooting this offseason — Los Angeles has examined versatile guard prospects and stretch forwards thus far.

Lakers Notes: Pelinka, Schröder, Centers, Kidd

When a defending champion gets knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, it usually means changes are coming, but Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka hopes to keep the core of this year’s team intact, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Injuries played a large role in L.A.’s downfall this season, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis both missing long stretches and being less than 100% for the playoffs.

The Lakers will have eight free agents this summer and possibly nine if Montrezl Harrell turns down a $9.7MM player option. Pelinka indicated that he will try to re-sign most of those players and said the front office is committed to paying the luxury tax to keep the team in title contention.

“I’m convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we’d be a championship-caliber team,” he said. “So the goal is to try to keep that core group together.”

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • At Friday’s exit interviews, Dennis Schröder made it clear that his decision to turn down an $84MM extension during the season wasn’t in retaliation for being part of trade talks involving Kyle Lowry, McMenamin adds. Schröder has expressed a desire to return to the Lakers, but he will see what offers are available in free agency. “I didn’t decline the extension because I was in trade talks,” he said. “I own a (basketball) team in Germany as well. I try to run my organization in Germany as fair as possible, but end of the day, it’s still business. … That’s what Rob did as well. He told me the story. He listened to it. It wasn’t even right by the trade deadline, but he talked to them to see. … I would listen to offers as well. … You don’t know what you can get, and you see what your options are.”
  • Finding a dependable center should be the focus of the Lakers’ offseason, states Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. They installed Andre Drummond as their starter after signing him in March, but he wasn’t used in Thursday’s close-out game. Marc Gasol signed a two-year contract during the offseason, but his role diminished significantly after Drummond was added.
  • With three NBA head coaching jobs now open, Frank Vogel said he believes Jason Kidd deserves another shot, according to Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. The Lakers’ assistant is Damian Lillard‘s first choice to take over the Trail Blazers and may be a candidate for other teams. “Jason has become one of my closest friends, you know, really a trusted advisor on my coaching staff and someone that has just been integral to our success in the last two years,” Vogel said. “He should be at the top of everybody’s list that has an opening in the NBA.” 

Lakers Rumors: Lowry, Schröder, THT, Caruso, Gasol

The Lakers were open to dealing point guard Dennis Schröder and longtime wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for veteran Raptors guard Kyle Lowry ahead of today’s trade deadline, but were resistant to including ascendant shooting guard Talen Horton-Tucker in a deal, according to Jovan Buha and Bill Oram of The Athletic.

Buha and Oram note that Schroder, KCP, and “some draft compensation” were being discussed in exchange for the six-time Toronto All-Star. Los Angeles team president Rob Pelinka apparently balked at including Horton-Tucker, a promising 20-year-old second-year combo guard.

The Lakers continue to negotiate a possible long-term contract extension with starting point guard Schröder, currently earning $15.5MM in the last season of an expiring four-year deal, but remain far apart in those talks. The 27-year-old veteran is hoping to net at least $20MM annually, according to Buha and Oram, who note that this price tag contributed to the front office being open to moving Schröder in a deal for Lowry.

The Lakers’ willingness to trade valuable two-way swingman Caldwell-Pope appear to be about prioritizing re-signing Horton-Tucker and point guard Alex Caruso during the 2021 offseason. A league source tells Buha and Oram that both players could garner deals worth the full mid-level exception, which projects to be worth more than $9.5MM next season.

With Schröder now sticking with LA through the trade deadline, sources tell Buha and Oram that the club hopes to re-sign the point guard this summer, too.

The Lakers currently still have two open roster spots, and are going to use the buyout market to acquire new additions heading into the home stretch of the season. Los Angeles appears to be one of the top finalists in the race to acquire 27-year-old Cavaliers center Andre Drummond, a two-time All-Star, once he finalizes his expected buyout with Cleveland. In addition to a veteran center, Buha and Oram anticipate that the Lakers will seek a defensive-oriented free agent swingman for their other available roster position.

In other Lakers news, starting center Marc Gasol will be back on the court for the injury-depleted club tonight against the Sixers, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times tweets. The veteran big man will only be allowed to play about 15 minutes tonight during his first game action this month, after being placed in the NBA’s coronavirus-related health and safety protocols.

Lakers Notes: Davis, LeBron, Pelinka, More

LeBron James added a few more major achievements to his résumé on Sunday, including his fourth NBA championship and his fourth Finals MVP award. However, as Anthony Slater of The Athletic writes, the Lakers’ playoff run and championship was also a major boon for Anthony Davis‘ reputation.

Within his article, Slater wonders how many players in the NBA a team would rather have on its roster over the next five seasons than Davis. In the wake of his extremely impressive postseason performance, Davis deserves to be mentioned in the NBA’s top tier of current stars, alongside the likes of James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, according to Slater, who adds that AD has a realistic chance to make a run at the title of world’s best player in the coming years.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Will James’ fourth title be his last? He certainly sounds prepared to go after his fifth, telling reporters after Sunday’s win that he’s still “got a lot of years left,” as ESPN relays (via Twitter).
  • An in-depth Ramona Shelburne piece at about Jeanie Buss‘ role in the latest Lakers title includes the following quote from an unnamed senior Lakers executive, which appears to be a shot directed at the Clippers: “While some of our so-called rivals spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars trying to win media cycles, we kept our heads down and focused on basketball — because the only thing we’ve ever cared about winning is championships.”
  • Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today outlines the long road the Lakers took to get to where they are today, starting with their 21-win and 17-win seasons from 2014-16.
  • In his press conference following the Lakers’ win on Sunday, general manager Rob Pelinka recalled the faith that Kobe Bryant expressed in him when he was first hired by the franchise (link via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN). “He said, ‘I’ll give you two, three years, you’ll fix this. You’ll get the Lakers back on top.'” Pelinka said of the late Bryant, whom he represented for two decades as an agent. “I guess you were right, man. You give me the energy to do it.”
  • Earlier today, we passed along Anthony Davis‘ comments on his contract situation.

Lakers Notes: Key Signings, KCP, Pelinka, Davis

Four of the Lakers‘ low-cost signings within the last year have been crucial in helping bring the team to within one win of a championship, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

As Slater details, the combined 2019/20 cap hits for Alex Caruso ($2.75MM), Rajon Rondo ($2.56MM), Markieff Morris ($1.75MM), and Dwight Howard ($1.62MM) total just $8.69MM, but those four players have become extremely important parts of the Lakers’ rotation, especially in the postseason.

Rondo’s return from a broken thumb has helped lessen the need for the Lakers to experiment with backups like Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith, while Morris’ ability to play center in small-ball lineups has come in handy multiple times in the playoffs, particularly against Houston. Howard had his best moments against Denver as a Nikola Jokic irritant, according to Slater, who adds that Caruso has been a steady, reliable contributor through the postseason.

Caruso is under contract for $2.75MM next season as well, but the other three vets will have the opportunity to reach free agency — their strong playoff showings could put them in line for raises.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hasn’t always been a fan favorite in Los Angeles during the last three seasons, but he’s coming up big for the team in the postseason, writes Jordan Greer of Sporting News. Caldwell-Pope, who has knocked down 38.5% of his three-pointers in the playoffs, made some big shots down the stretch in Game 4 to help seal the Lakers’ win. He has a $8.49MM player option for 2020/21.
  • A championship would be vindication for Lakers head of basketball operations Rob Pelinka, who took the reins following Magic Johnson‘s abrupt resignation last spring, then negotiated a trade for Anthony Davis, came up short in his pursuit of Kawhi Leonard, and had to quickly fill out the roster around his stars six days into free agency. Sam Amick of The Athletic has the story on Pelinka’s “let-it-all-out moment” near the end of Game 4.
  • The role of franchise savior never quite fit Anthony Davis in New Orleans, according to Justin Verrier of The Ringer, who writes that the former No. 1 overall pick has been at his best and is reaching his full potential alongside another superstar in LeBron James.