With any team LeBron James is on, the perception is always going to be that he runs the show with the other parts of the organization orbiting around him. The only franchise where it didn’t feel like that was the case was probably the Miami Heat, and that was mostly because no such situation would ever really fly with Pat Riley at the helm.
James has always pushed back against such a narrative, but there is simply too much smoke not to notice the way he and his camp pull strings throughout the league. In a piece outlining Rich Paul’s role in all this by S.L. Price of Sports Illustrated, one example was given about how some are speculating that Paul was working to fill out new Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel’s coaching staff, something the Lakers denied in one of the most sarcastic public statements the team has ever given:
Spin further forward and, if anything, it seems that Paul and James have grown stronger. Demps’s replacement, Griffin, is a former Cavaliers GM who has an amicable history with the duo. The Lakers? Magic’s departure sparked calls for a hard-eyed outsider to take charge; instead, Pelinka assumed Johnson’s duties, tried to hire LeBron favorite Tyronn Lue to replace Walton and, after botching that, insisted on adding James’s close friend, former Nets and Bucks coach Jason Kidd, to Vogel’s staff. By May, at least one NBA executive could be heard muttering, “Klutch Sports runs the Lakers.”
A Lakers spokesperson responded, “That’s not true,” adding, with an exasperated chuckle, “Everyone knows LaVar Ball runs the team.”
We all stan for our president LaVar Ball.
As you’d imagine, though, Paul continued to push back against the idea that either he or James are applying pressure on the Lakers to bend to their whims:
But the idea of Paul—and, by extension, James—meddling in team decisions gained further credence last month when an ESPN report on the Lakers detailed Paul voicing dissatisfaction, in November, with Walton to commissioner Adam Silver. In May, Paul also approached at least one NBA coach to gauge interest in an assistant role on Vogel’s staff, a source familiar with the conversation told SI. Last week, Paul declined comment to SI on the Silver exchange and denied broaching a role on Vogel’s staff to anyone.
“No,” Paul says. “Plenty of coaches, plenty of people have reached out to me to get guys to be an assistant. But I haven’t approached anybody about being an assistant. It’s not my place.”
It makes sense that James, his camp and the Lakers would want to minimize the perception that James and/or Paul are calling shots beyond what you’d expect of any superstar, even if such a situation is the reality. How would the Lakers look as a destination for another star if that was the case? How would James appear as a teammate? Such things have to be taken into account.
Coaches reaching out to Paul knowing his influence over the league makes sense. Paul taking those calls and pushing those names on the Lakers is another thing altogether. Even with that said, it wasn’t like the Lakers’ search for coaches this offseason has been so free of mistakes that they couldn’t use the help.
The entire profile of Paul was well worth your time if you haven’t checked it out and held all kinds of nuggets you’d be interested in, especially as Lakers fans who were annoyed at how the trade deadline went last season. Paul’s influence is undeniable, but he’s wise not to overplay that hand.