Lakers’ dysfunction makes Celtics’ issues appear minuscule
Just hours before Frank Vogel was introduced to the media in Los Angeles as the Lakers’ new coach, Magic Johnson, the team’s former president, took a seat on the set of ESPN’S “First Take” in Bristol, Conn., and dismantled the leadership structure of the organization.
Celtics faithful who believe their organization has troubles after this disappointing season had to be laughing at the sight of Johnson, perhaps the greatest Laker of all time, calling out general manager Rob Pelinka for “backstabbing” during their two-year tenure together.
Johnson resigned abruptly on April 9, telling reporters the job wasn’t fun anymore and that he was tired of dealing with organizational infighting and ambivalence after yet another losing season. Johnson also said he wanted to get back to being himself, meaning a league ambassador and statesman who could work on the skills of players around the NBA, such as Philadelphia point guard Ben Simmons, without facing tampering charges.
Johnson unleashed his biggest accusations on “First Take” when he named Pelinka as the person who betrayed him, criticizing Johnson behind his back about his work ethic and lack of attendance at the team offices.
What’s bizarre is that Pelinka claims that he and Johnson had open and enjoyable conversations two days prior to Monday’s TV appearance.
“The most important thing for me is the two years getting to work side by side with Earvin are some of the greatest memories I have in sports and work. He’s an unbelievable person to work with. He fills the room with joy and vision,” Pelinka said. “Truly it’s saddening and disheartening to think he believes things are a misperception.
“I have talked to him several times since he decided to step away. Even two days ago we were reliving the Combine and [having this year’s] fourth pick, even talking about the great future this franchise has. So these things are surprising to hear and disheartening. I’m looking forward to talking to him because they are simply not true. I’ve always supported everything he’s done and will continue to.”
Pelinka took the high road, but in reality both parties are responsible. Johnson did not think he was hired to be a day-to-day operations guy and therefore didn’t think his presence was necessary in the office every day. It seems he delegated that responsibility to Pelinka but wanted to make the final organizational decisions.
Johnson acknowledged he wanted to fire coach Luke Walton during the season but was overruled by owner Jeannie Buss because she liked Walton personally. Walton was eventually fired after the season, which proved even more frustrating for Johnson.
Pelinka, a former agent, has come across as smug and arrogant to many NBA executives who told Johnson they only wanted to deal with him in negotiations. Pelinka is confidants with former Lakers great Kobe Bryant, which is one of the reasons why he was hired.
Johnson and Pelinka tried working together and actually collaborated to sign LeBron James and make several trades. But at the same time, Pelinka was not impressed with Johnson’s work ethic. Johnson, during the “First Take” interview, claimed that he received calls from many of his NBA friends saying Pelinka was openly criticizing his work ethic.
Johnson, because of his reputation and accomplishments, has every right to believe he can be the man to close deals and sway players to the Lakers. But there was obvious confusion about how much day-to-day work he would be doing, especially considering his other business interests.
Regardless, it’s not a good sign when a legend abruptly leaves an organization. The Lakers had a chance to get Tyronn Lue as coach but offered a pedestrian three-year deal instead of five, and he turned them down.
Pelinka decided on Vogel, a veteran coach and former Celtics video coordinator who said he was “ecstatic” to land the Lakers job. But Vogel, the Lakers’ third choice to fill the position, is coming off a miserable stint coaching the Orlando Magic, and has been fired twice in the past three years.
Also, the Lakers decided to hire Jason Kidd as Vogel’s top assistant, opening up the real possibility that he will replace Vogel if the team fails to fulfill expectations.
The Lakers are an organization in chaos because the leadership structure is so flawed. Former NBA coach and ex-Laker Kurt Rambis has suddenly risen to be an influential position in the hierarchy along with his wife Linda, who is a close friend of Buss.
Johnson walked away from a situation where he essentially had his power compromised and his reputation damaged. And the Celtics think they’ve got problems?
Perkins a good fit for coaching, TV
It should serve as no surprise that Kendrick Perkins’s straight-shooting and deadpan style would fit naturally in television. For the past few months, Perkins has been making the television tours, offering his takes on all things NBA, taking his first transition step after retirement.
Perkins said the basketball bug is gone, so much so that he backed out of a commitment to play in Ice Cube’s Big3 league to pursue coaching and TV opportunities. The burly, bearded, and authentic Perkins remains wildly popular with former teammates, Celtics fans, and TV producers because he never bites his tongue. He gives the kind of advice that many players need, even though it’s not something they may want to hear.
So Perkins, a member of the Celtics’ 2008 championship team, wants to coach and he’s interested in Boston’s vacant assistant position to replace Micah Shrewsberry.
It seems as though Perkins has been around the NBA for a generation, but he is still five months short of 35. And he has a lot to offer in his post-playing career.
“I figured ain’t no reason to slow it down, it’s time to speed it up,” Perkins told the Globe. “Right now, I’m trying to keep capitalizing on different things and make sure I keep putting myself in position for the long haul and keeping those doors open.”
Perkins served as a mentor-coach type during his last NBA season with the Cavaliers. So a transition to coaching would seem to come naturally. He worked with a team at last week’s NBA Draft Combine, an audition of sorts in front of several team executives to show he could be an assistant coach.
“I actually got a chance to get my feet wet a little bit,” he said. “I learned a lot — patience and stuff like that from a coaching standpoint. I always envisioned myself as a coach. I’ve been doing a lot more TV lately because it’s been doing well for me, but if coaching presented itself I would definitely jump into it with open arms.”
Like many NBA experts and observers, including former teammate Paul Pierce, Perkins believed this year’s Celtics would emerge from their early-season struggles and reach their potential as an NBA Finals contender. That never happened. The Celtics were thumped by Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I just think there wasn’t unity,” Perkins said of the Celtics. “I’m just watching it and it’s basically poor leadership skills. Guys [weren’t] on the same page. I said at the beginning of the season, if things were to go south for the Celtics, it would be because the team is so talented and it’s hard to have a young team and have them buy into a system because so many guys have so many things on their mind — contracts, maybe making the All-Star Game one day.
“That played a big role and I was wondering if guys were going to be able to make the willing sacrifice that was needed in order for them to win. All of a sudden a little adversity hit and everything fell apart and things really went backwards. The Celtics are still a great organization. I was pulling for them but I just didn’t like the way things ended.”
The importance of having former NBA players on a coaching staff is unquestioned in today’s league, making Perkins, who played on teams with Pierce, Ray Allen, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook, a valuable commodity.
“Players respect guys that played in the game,” Perkins said. “You see a lot of former players starting to get into coaching. I think it’s great for the NBA.”
When asked if he’s had any conversations with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge about an assistant coaching position, Perkins said, “I haven’t reached out to them yet. I was giving it time. I’ve got so much stuff going on, because whatever I do, I just want to make sure I make the right decision. [Danny] knows I am an all-in type of guy. I would love to talk to Danny. We could figure it out and see how it rolls.”
Despite the Celtics’ abrupt playoff exit, Perkins likes their potential, even if Kyrie Irving does not return.
“Danny and the organization are going to make sure they make the right moves, so I think it will be great to start by saying, ‘Who are my young guys that I want?’ ” Perkins said. “Obviously you keep Gordon Hayward, he’s going to be a factor. I love Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. You see how the situation turns out with Kyrie.”
Don’t call Perkins a potential big-man coach. He wants to be just a coach and he’s willing to take the less-glamorous road of the G League to get on a NBA sideline.
“Some people have to take that road and grind it out and some of us don’t. You look at a guy like [Tyronn] Lue, who’s a close friend of mine, and he didn’t have to go that route,” said Perkins. “It’s all about having a connection and great communication and showing you’re able to coach. I’m willing to put in the groundwork to get me to wherever I need to go. I’m not scared of that.
“I’m in a good place and ready to start making things happen, whether it’s coaching or it’s TV.”
Nevada’s Martin just wants a shot
Nevada’s Cody Martin is trying to play himself into the first round of the NBA Draft in the next few weeks. Martin and twin brother Caleb were top-100 recruits before committing to North Carolina State. The pair transferred to Nevada after their sophomore year in 2016 and led the Wolf Pack to the Sweet 16 in 2018.
The Wolf Pack, picked by some as a Final Four darkhorse this past season, were only a seventh seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Florida in the first round. Cody had a solid senior season, with the small forward averaging 12.1 points and shooting 35 percent from the 3-point line.
But not playing deep into the tournament robbed him of a chance to showcase himself more for pro teams against elite competition.
“Honestly, I still think about [the loss],” Cody said. “But the reason I think about it is how I learned from it. It’s not necessarily me dwelling on it and being upset about it. I think it’s more taking it as a learning experience for what we should have done. I wish I could get that game back but I can’t.”
Cody faces special challenges in interviews with NBA teams. Teams want to know if he can succeed without Caleb, also a draft prospect but who wasn’t invited to the Combine.
Cody has played on the same team with his brother since they were very young, but he wants NBA teams to know that he realizes that can’t last, that each has to chase his own path.
“We just communicate like everyone else,” Cody said. “I talk to him, I Facetime him, he’ll wish me luck. I was at home while he was doing his workouts too, so I was wishing him luck. I’m not going to play any different because he’s not here. I know I have the same support system and that’s all that matters.
“A lot of time [teams] ask me how I’m going to do without my brother. We understand we have to go our separate ways. To be able to go this far with my brother is a blessing.”
Being invited to the NBA Draft Combine is not easy. The league has a limited number of spots. Cody had to compete in the G League elite camp for a chance to get an invitation because he was passed up initially. He and Lowell native Terance Mann of Florida State had to compete in the G League camp for their chance.
That essentially means they are fighting just to get drafted or may have to head overseas or to the G League to get their professional start.
“Everyone has their own journey and some people are going to get there quicker than others,” Cody said. “It doesn’t really matter because there’s people in better positions than I am that I’ll end up being in [the NBA] longer than if I get the chance. It’s just about me being confident in myself and knowing that I put in the work over the summer.”
Harvard got a boost when guard Bryce Aiken decided to return for his senior year after declaring for the draft in March. Aiken worked out for some NBA teams but wasn’t invited to the Combine, an indication that it may be best for him to play his final season at Harvard. Meanwhile, Yale’s Miye Oni told the Globe he plans to remain in the draft and is a projected second-round pick. Oni will work out for teams over the next few weeks. Although Oni seems intent on staying in the draft he has the option of returning to school if he is undrafted because he was invited to the Combine . . . One intriguing coaching prospect to fill the Celtics’ assistant opening is current Cavaliers assistant James Posey. He is not expected to be part of John Beilein’s staff with the Cavaliers and his contract expires on June 30. Posey, 42, was an assistant for Tyronn Lue on the Cavaliers’ title team in 2016 and is highly regarded in NBA circles . . . Former Celtic Dwight Powell has opted out of the final year of his contract with Dallas at $10.2 million and will become a free agent. Powell’s market value is interesting because he’s more of a traditional big man who rebounds, defends, and doesn’t shoot many 3-pointers. He started just 22 games this season for the Mavericks and played 21.2 minutes per game . . . After leaving the NBA to sign with Anadolu Efes in Turkey, former Celtic Shane Larkin could return to the NBA for a third time. Larkin finished an impressive season overseas after essentially being squeezed out of the NBA free agent market last summer. The Celtics decided to bring in Brad Wanamaker as their third point guard with mixed results. Wanamaker didn’t play much but did show flashes of being a reliable guard when he did, just as Larkin did the season before. Other players from the Euroleague to watch in free agency are ex-Phoenix guard Mike James, who led the league in scoring, and 7-foot-3-inch center Walter Tavares, who bounced around the NBA before signing with Real Madrid.