Over the course of NBA All-Star Weekend, as LeBron James did his best to ratchet up the heat on the Lakers with his continuing praise for opposing executives and open flirtations with a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was one other, slightly more subtle shot fired in the simmering cold war between Los Angeles and James’ agency, Klutch Sports.
On Sunday, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report dropped a long, multi-faceted story on the growing pressure for the Lakers to appease their star forward with his contract coming to an end in a little over a year, but it featured one small note that got most of the attention; with Pincus writing that “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.”
By Monday morning, Paul had spoken to Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, with the latter of whom saying on “First Take” that the super agent wanted to deny one specific part of that report (emphasis mine):
“Rich Paul called me yesterday and asked me to quote him on this story about him, and Klutch Sports, and essentially them wanting the Lakers to trade Russell Westbrook and a first-round pick to Houston for John Wall. He wanted me to state emphatically that there was absolutely, positively no truth to that whatsoever. He never did that. He did not do that. The people who wrote the story never contacted him to get any kind of perspective from him on that.
“It is an absolute lie, and he said ‘could you please do me a favor and quote me and tell the world that I specifically said that’s a damn lie. There is no truth. It never happened.’ Just for what it’s worth, that’s what Rich Paul says about these stories that have been put out there. Fair enough. So I quoted him.”
You can watch the entire exchange in the video below, including Smith and fellow analyst Kendrick Perkins criticizing Pelinka and the Rambii for how they’ve run the Lakers and how the former helped push Magic Johnson out the door, as well as explaining why they don’t think LeBron James (and Anthony Davis) are blameless in this mess.
But the most interesting thing here is that Paul didn’t necessarily push back on the idea that there is a growing rift between the Lakers and Klutch, just on the part about him wanting the Lakes to swap Westbrook for one of his clients in Wall, at least in Smith’s rehashing. That is, in its own way, sort of telling (and also not necessary to know there’s a rift between the two camps. James’ ongoing blowtorch aimed at the Lakers and the leak from a source familiar with both James’ and Davis’ thinking — gee, wonder who that could be — denying that they were on the same page with Pelinka at the deadline were enough to tell us that, even without these specifics).
Still, it’s easy to understand why Klutch would not want that in the public sphere, and honestly, in a world filled with anonymity handed out like Halloween candy by insiders looking to beat a press release by five minutes and rake in those sweet, sweet retweets, respect to Paul for putting his name to this if he’s going to dispute a specific report instead of trying to go cloak and dagger with it.
But while I’m not going to claim to know for certain whether Paul himself specifically pushed for a Wall trade in an explicit conversation — or if there was just clear, implied pressure from various actors through media messengers as this cold war heated up at the deadline — it is clear there is tension between the Lakers and Klutch, even if the goal of this statement was to dispel one specific aspect of it. We’ll see where things go from here, but given all the reporting on this over the last few days, it’s clear this story isn’t going away anytime soon.
Can the Lakers and the agency that helped them deliver their only post Dr. Jerry Buss championship fully repair their relationship this summer, or is this going to get even uglier? We won’t know for a few months, but as this season continues to circle the drain and more reports about the ultimate end goals for James’ “GM’s not named Rob Pelinka praise tour” continue to trickle out, this is not going to be the last we hear of the continuing back-and-forth between the agency, Pelinka, and the other various power brokers here trying to absolve themselves of blame and point the finger elsewhere for this disastrous season.
I’m not going to reiterate arguments on who is at fault for what, because all the power brokers involved — from Pelinka, to James, to Davis, to Frank Vogel, to the Rambii, to Klutch, to Jeanie Buss — all played a part in how horribly this has all gone. What is going to be worth watching is who ultimately takes the fall for it, and who fills the power vacuum left by the various scapegoats when the tune stops on this ongoing game of blame appropriation musical chairs.