The dysfunction within the Los Angeles Lakers runs deep, and wide. General manager Rob Pelinka has been on the receiving end of his fair share of criticism, as has owner Jeanie Buss and now-former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, and rightfully so.
However, a new name must be added to the mix, as apparently LeBron James’ long-time agent, Rich Paul, also played a major role in some of that dysfunction this past season.
According to an extensive and revealing Lakers report from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, Paul was unhappy with head coach Luke Walton early last season, and he went all the way to the top of the league — commissioner Adam Silver — to express his frustration and to say that Walton wasn’t the right guy for the job. Walton ultimately parted ways with the Lakers after the season, but the fact that James’ agent was openly against the Lakers’ head coach added to some of the uncertainly that surrounded the team, and Walton, all season.
In November, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Maverick Carter, LeBron’s longtime business partner, met for lunch. James’ agent, Rich Paul, was seated at a nearby table, and at one point, approached Silver to complain about Walton, multiple sources familiar with the interaction told ESPN. Paul said he didn’t believe Walton was the right coach for the Lakers. Silver shrugged off the remark and asked whom Paul thought would be the right coach. Paul suggested Tyronn Lue.
Paul was also letting it be known through back-channel conversations, including those with reporters, that he wasn’t on board with Walton. Paul criticized how Walton allotted minutes to players and his inconsistent lineups, which were partly the result of injuries and suspensions. Members of the Lakers’ coaching staff became aware of those conversations and wondered whether Johnson’s heated meeting with Walton was influenced by Paul.
Paul complaining directly to Silver isn’t an especially great look for the super agent, or James, especially if the latter is trying to dispel the persistent notion that he is heavily involved in the team’s decision-making process.
Paul’s pull within the Lakers organization didn’t stop there, however. He also rode on the private team charter plane several times over the course of the season — something that apparently made other members of the organization extremely uncomfortable.
Also via ESPN:
Coaching staff and others close to the team told ESPN there would continue to be an increased presence by Paul and Klutch Sports in ways that seemed strange to them. For instance, three Lakers sources familiar with team travel details independently told ESPN that Paul rode on the Lakers’ charter plane on multiple occasions this season, an act that front-office executives, other NBA general managers and other agents around the league said is highly unusual — if not unheard of.
“Coaches know Rich is trying to get them fired, and players know Rich is trying to get them traded,” said one agent with ties to the Lakers, who called Paul’s presence on the plane “destructive.”
There’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the current state of the Lakers, but the role that LeBron and his representation played in the unraveling of the team this past season is extremely interesting, especially considering the fact that James is under contract with L.A. for three more seasons.
For what it’s worth, Paul admitted to riding on the team plane, but denied other allegations touched on in ESPN’s report, and said that he plans to continue to act in the best interest of his client(s).
“I understand my position,” Paul said. “I respect all those in our industry. At the end of the day, all I can do is continue to do a job for my client. That’s it. I can’t worry about what somebody thinks, the perception. All I can do is work hard and continue down the path that I’m on.”
Magic Johnson may be gone, but all of the other issues facing the Lakers organization remain. All parties involved, including James and Paul, will have to figure out a way to get on the same page, or a return to former glory will remain a pipe dream.
Courtesy: CBS Sports