The Russell Westbrook fiasco has been appropriately attributed to the Lakers' final decision maker - LeBron James. Shockingly, LeBron isn't willing to accept responsibility and is shifting the blame. Given the recent media reports, seems like Rob Pelinka will have to be the fall guy this time.
Shot across the bow
You don't have to be Bob Woodward to figure out specific teams have a bias towards working with certain agencies. For instance, the Knicks have a strong connection to CAA, which is not surprising given the fact Rose basically established CAA's sports division. Familiarity and trust play a role in the business of the NBA. But given the influence LeBron James has over the Lakers, one could say they are basically as Klutch Sports subsidiary.
As we all know, Rob Pelinka set up a deal with the Kings to bring Buddy Hield to the Lakers, but LeBron and AD overrode that deal and forced the Lakers to trade every player and pick available to bring in Russell Westbrook. For the first time in a long time, an organization said "no" to LeBron this trade deadline, when by not making any moves, the Lakers gave LeBron and Klutch a metaphorical middle finger. The message was clear.
”The Lakers front office, and that includes ownership, decided 'You guys got yourself into this, this is the bed you made. LeBron, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, all the future Hall of Famers. This is your choice of roster and team, go make it work. We are not going to mortgage our future because this team isn't working yet.'”
Ramona Shelbourne, The Hoop Collective
It didn't take long to get LeBron's response. Excuse me, Adam Silver and the NBA "investigated" LeBron's connection to Klutch and found no conflict of interest or indication of breaking the rules. It didn't take long to get Klutch's response. A shot was fired across Pelinka's bow.
“According to multiple NBA sources, Klutch is not happy with Pelinka. The sentiment has long percolated, but it reached a boil when Pelinka refused to trade Westbrook and a future first-round pick (likely 2027) for Houston Rockets guard and Klutch client John Wall.”
Eric Pincus, Bleacher Report
It wasn't hard to spot where the story is coming from given the fact that a few paragraphs down, you can read that “From the Klutch point of view, the Lakers would get their client out of a bad situation in Houston and undo the Westbrook mistake. ... A strong executive will make the right choice for the franchise, even if that means rebuffing the pressure from the team's biggest star. The blame doesn't fall on James' broad shoulders but on the front office that agreed with him that it was the move to make.”
That's exactly the point. Klutch's interests aren't 100% aligned with the Lakers' best interest, and Pelinka deciding not to make the move was an example of "a strong executive making the right choice for the franchise." It's hilarious that a narrative that Pelinka should've said no to LeBron in the summer is being constructed in the same article where Klutch is announcing Pelinka's days are numbered because he said no at the trade deadline.
Legacy at stake
As much as LeBron and Klutch are dedicated to controlling their public image, they couldn't escape the fact the Westbrook fiasco falls on them. It's not just about being a mediocre team this year. LeBron understands the game of having GM power but not accepting responsibility is a major black mark on his GOAT chances. There are two options for James at this point - accept responsibility or try and shift the blame through heavily controlled media appearances. Guess which one he opted for. Here's a shortened list from Sam Amick's great story for The Athletic.
1. He called the Lakers’ lackluster campaign a “hell-storm of a season” — a true statement that is reflected in their 27-31 record and the fact that they’re fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament (that he once chided) at this point. He lauded all sorts of out-of-nowhere praise on Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti, a move that came in response to a question about Josh Giddey. It was curious at best and passive-aggressive toward Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka at worst.
2. He raved about Cavs general manager Koby Altman, highlighting all the draft picks and trades that have sparked his old team’s renaissance without him. This newfound penchant for promoting Altman’s acumen was most assuredly not part of his politics leading up to his Cleveland exit four years ago.
3. James tweeted about Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead on Wednesday, celebrating his t-shirt that read “F**k them picks.” This isn’t Da Vinci Code-level stuff, folks. It’s quite clear that James isn’t thrilled with the way the Lakers’ season has been handled so far.
4. In case anyone forgets, James made it known heading into the Feb. 10 trade deadline that he believed the Lakers’ roster needed some reshuffling.
As everyone knows, the way LeBron kept the pressure on front offices was to sign 1+1 deals, effectively being a free agent every summer. That way, the threat of James leaving if he wasn't happy was always looming, making the Cavs make short-term moves while disregarding the long-term impacts.
Well, LeBron is under a multi-year deal, taking that tactic of pressure on the front office off the table - at least until now. Since James and Klutch got most of the blame for the horrible season the Lakers are going through, he is doing everything needed to win the fight the NBA, and most players seem most eager to win, that of public opinion.
We all concluded that LA would be LeBron's last stop. Moving yet again would truly be too much. The man just turned 37 and is under contract through '22/'23; he's going to be 38 and counting when his current deal is done. We should reconsider that assumption. While most of us will read this quote as a heartwarming father's wish, NBA executives understand it serves a different purpose. A reminder to the Lakers who is The King.
“My last year will be played with my son. Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”
LeBron James, The Athletic
Bronny could join the NBA in 2024. His dad will make his contract decisions accordingly, and the message has been sent. Want LeBron to extend his deal this summer, even for one more year? He expects someone else than Rob Pelinka to be in the photo when he signs on the dotted line.