The NBA is investigating allegations made against the LA Clippers and team consultant Jerry West involving the free-agency recruitment of Kawhi Leonard in 2019, the team confirmed in a statement Thursday.
Johnny Wilkes, a man who claims to be close to Leonard and best friends with Kawhi’s uncle Dennis Robertson, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against West and the Clippers, alleging the team consultant owes him $2.5 million in an oral agreement made for helping the Clippers sign Leonard.
“The lawsuit filed by Johnny Wilkes is replete with inaccuracies and the allegations are baseless,” the Clippers said in a statement. “The Clippers are fully cooperating with the NBA in its investigation, which is standard when these types of allegations are made. They are providing the NBA with evidence that the allegations are false.”
According to the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, Wilkes alleges that he informed West in April 2019 that he was close to Leonard and the All-Star’s uncle. Wilkes and Robertson were teammates at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. The lawsuit alleges that Wilkes told West he could provide vital information to help the Clippers land Leonard in free agency if the team agreed to pay him $2.5 million for his services. According to the lawsuit, West agreed to the terms. Wilkes is seeking $2.5 million plus damages.
West told TMZ Sports, which first reported the lawsuit, that he denies “engaging in any improper conduct in connection with the signing of Kawhi Leonard.”
Leonard says Wilkes played no role in his decision to sign with the Clippers over the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors.
“Not at all,” Leonard said after the Clippers lost 125-105 to the Utah Jazz in a preseason game Thursday at Staples Center. “That has nothing to do with me. Nobody swayed my mind to go [to the Clippers].”
Leonard said it won’t be the last time someone tries to make money off of him.
“I’m from L.A. and I grew up here my whole life,” said Leonard, who grew up in Moreno Valley, outside of Los Angeles. “And out here, people try to find any way to get some money. It probably won’t be the last. I know a lot of people out here.”
Among the claims Wilkes makes is that on June 29, 2019, he informed a man named Sam Watson “that the Clippers needed to sign Paul George in order to get Kawhi Leonard to sign.” According to the lawsuit, Watson relayed that information to West.
The lawsuit also alleges that on or about July 1, 2019, before the Clippers’ free-agency meeting with Leonard, Wilkes informed West that the Clippers needed to pitch to the All-Star that he “will have a great life as a Clipper and after basketball” if he signs. Wilkes also claims to have said that the Clippers needed to emphasize that they have a roster with upside that will remain competitive and that they “will do whatever it takes to compete with the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James.”
Wilkes also alleges that around July 4, 2019, “at the direction of Jerry West and the Clippers,” he informed Robertson that if Leonard signed with the Clippers, Leonard’s uncle would “receive a house in Southern California” along with a travel expense, and that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would “fund a $100,000,000.00 marketing campaign for Kawhi Leonard.”
The NBA’s investigation would pertain to “Other Indirect Contact” as detailed under Article 35A (3) of the NBA constitution, which “prohibits indirect communications, such as those made through intermediaries.” The Clippers could be fined up to $10 million and lose draft picks if they are found to have violated the rule.
The Clippers officially signed Leonard to a three-year, $103.1 million deal with a player option for the 2021-22 season on July 10, 2019. The two-time Finals MVP joined the Clippers after they traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick and two first-round pick swaps to Oklahoma City for George.
George signed a maximum contract extension last week that guarantees as much as $226 million over the next five years.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Ramona Shelburne and Bobby Marks contributed to this report.