Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times here with your Lakers newsletter.
I write to you from Chicago, where the NBA draft lottery happened on Tuesday and the draft combine begins today, with interviews having begun earlier in the week.
The Lakers contingent strolled into the Hilton Chicago on Wednesday afternoon and was led by general manager Rob Pelinka. Among the people behind him were advisor Kurt Rambis, director of scouting and assistant GM Jesse Buss and director of player personnel Ryan West. New head coach Frank Vogel brought up the rear.
This time of year is when Jesse Buss’ role is the most prominent, and for the past few years the Lakers have had success in the draft. They haven’t kept many of the players they’ve drafted, but it’s a testament to their scouting that they’ve had players coveted by other teams.
The types of players the Lakers will evaluate have changed a bit. They entered the week expecting to pick 11th or later and jumped all the way to fourth in the lottery.
Conventional wisdom about this year’s draft is that the top three players — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett — are significantly more valuable than the next seven or eight. That would put the Lakers into the jumble of middle-of-the pack first-rounders. Of course players always fall, and just because that’s the conventional wisdom now doesn’t mean it’s a certainty.
The Lakers will now set to work making their own evaluations of both the top of the draft and the way the rest of the league values the fourth pick. Could it be enough to trade for another star so the Lakers aren’t at the mercy of free agency?
Suddenly, all of that matters to the Lakers.
A lot has happened since our last newsletter. Each time we planned to send one, another explosive Lakers development would occur. A quick timeline:
- April 9: Magic Johnson holds an impromptu news conference announcing he will step down as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. Co-owner Jeanie Buss releases a statement thanking Johnson.
- April 10: The Lakers choose not to have any executive speak on their behalf, leaving their players to answer questions at their exit interviews about Johnson’s departure.
- April 12: Luke Walton and the Lakers part ways. The Lakers provide a statement from general manager Rob Pelinka about Walton’s departure.
- April 13: The Sacramento Kings hire Walton.
- April 22: Former Spectrum SportsNet host Kelli Tennant files a lawsuit accusing Walton of sexual assault in 2014.
- April 24 and 25: Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams get interviewed for a second time by the Lakers, this time with a seven-person contingent that includes Jeanie, Joey and Jesse Buss, Kurt and Linda Rambis, Tim Harris and Rob Pelinka.
- May 3: Williams takes a five-year contract with the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers reach out to Lue. Until then the Lakers hadn’t offered the job to anyone.
- May 8: Negotiations break down between the Lakers and Lue, and the Lakers turn their attention to Frank Vogel.
- May 9: Frank Vogel interviews with the Lakers.
- May 10: J.B. Bickerstaff interviews with the Lakers.
- May 11: The Lakers hire Frank Vogel to be their next head coach.
- May 14: The Lakers win the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft after entering the draft lottery with a 9% chance to land in the top four.
So how did Vogel wind up as the Lakers’ next head coach?
You’ll have to excuse the liberal use of anonymous sourcing here as the Lakers have not allowed anyone who works for them to speak on the subject so far. With one minor exception, no member of the Lakers’ front office or ownership has given an interview since Johnson stepped down. (Instead the players were asked to answer for them in their exit interviews on April 10.) The exception is that Pelinka spoke at the draft lottery, but when I asked him about the coaching search, he declined to answer and said he would only speak about the lottery.
Here’s what I’ve gathered from various conversations.
Vogel shares an agent with Lue, and his name was one that came up during Lue’s contract negotiations as a potential assistant coach. He and Lue spoke about that possibility, and it seemed likely to happen right up until the point when Lue and the Lakers permanently split.
That negotiation had been slow to start. For a week and a half after Lue’s second interview, he didn’t hear from the Lakers at all because the Lakers frankly hadn’t made a decision yet. Both Johnson and Phil Jackson had urged Jeanie Buss to hire Lue, but there were others who weren’t so sure. There was also concern that hiring Lue would send the wrong message about how much power sat with LeBron James.
Then on May 3, which was Lue’s 42nd birthday, the conversation started.
I’ll present both sides of the story here.
According to a person close to the Lakers management, through the negotiation process the Lakers developed concerns about Lue’s fit with the organization. Part of those concerns stemmed from Lue’s disagreement with the Lakers about who would be on his staff. While they agreed on Vogel, they disagreed on Jason Kidd, whom the Lakers insisted he include. They also balked at Lue’s counter to the three-year deal the offered.
According to people close to Lue, the former Cavaliers coach felt put off by the process as a whole, and even more so by the Lakers’ three-year, $18-million offer. Walton received a five-year deal from the Lakers back in 2016 and Williams received a five-year deal from the Suns. Lue felt he deserved at least that many years and more money given that he was not a first-time head coach and had won a championship as a coach.
One person close to Lue said Lue withdrew his name from consideration multiple times, and the person close to Lakers management denied that.
What they agree on is that Lue rejected the Lakers’ offers. But even after he did, he thought they would eventually return with a more acceptable deal, according to a person close to Lue. The Lakers didn’t and opted to move on instead, turning their attention toward Vogel.
From there the process moved at lightning speed, considering how the previous four weeks had gone. They decided to hire Vogel on Friday and on Saturday he agreed to a three-year deal, with Kidd on his staff.
The team will introduce Vogel on Monday. It’s unclear who else will be available to reporters at that point and what they’ll be willing to address, but perhaps finally we’ll be able to get some clarity on what the true structure of the front office will be.
Until next time…
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli