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Reports: Magic Johnson wanted to fire Rob Pelinka, who’ll instead keep (maybe gain) power within Lakers

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As Lakers president Magic Johnson could seemingly do whatever he wanted, including not work very hard. Until his stunning resignation yesterday, Johnson was clearly set to fire coach Luke Walton.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

But you also hear that he may have wanted Rob Pelinka gone, and there was resistance there.

Now, I spoke to Jeanie Buss, and I spoke to Rob Pelinka. And both categorically and emphatically denied that there’s any truth to that whatsoever. But in the hours and the days to come, you’re going to hear that nugget of information percolating and really resonating.

This has been percolating for months: Rob Pelinka might go into the office or into the Lakers facility, “Hey guys. How are you doing? Where’s Magic Johnson?” knowing that Magic Johnson wasn’t there in an effort to bring attention to the fact that Magic Johnson wasn’t there.

Of course, Rob Pelinka has denied that, as well. And in fairness to him, there are people out there that are his enemies, that have never liked him, and they will talk about him. And to his defense, some people might make some stuff up. I’m just telling you, you’re hearing these kinds of things. And you were hearing these kinds of things in the days leading up to Magic Johnson announcing it.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The team is still assessing Johnson’s decision, but general manager Rob Pelinka will stay in his job, and, if anything, his power will grow, sources told Shelburne.

Johnson and Pelinka were an odd president-general manager pairing. They lacked experience in basketball operations, and they had no clear prior connection. Johnson was a great Lakers player. Pelinka was Kobe Bryant’s agent. That was it.

So, it wouldn’t be surprising if their relationship turned contentious.

That said, as Smith noted, Pelinka has rubbed plenty of people the wrong way. It’d be easy for people who dislike him to smear him.

But whatever people think of Pelinka personally, the Lakers’ roster construction is, as LeBron James said, “[fart noise].” Maybe that’s all Johnson’s fault. But I certainly wouldn’t keep Pelinka without him explaining his role in the front office’s many missteps.

Considering the Lakers’ resources, they should probably do better than just promoting Pelinka. And if they hire a new team president, that person should have authority to choose underlings. Pelinka shouldn’t be part of the package. If Jeanie Buss insists Pelinka stays, that will turn off candidates.

There’s still so much of this situation to uncover. The Johnson-Pelinka dynamic isn’t totally clear. With Johnson blindsiding everyone, I’m not sure the Lakers are set on their next steps, including how to handle Pelinka.

But Johnson said something yesterday that sure fits this narrative:

What I didn’t like is the backstabbing, the whispering. I don’t like that. I don’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on.

NBA players’ union votes to support formation of G-League union

Kyrie Irving
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Better pay. Better working conditions. Not to be treated as disposable parts by their employers.

The players in the G-League want the same thing out of a union that auto workers, teachers, and (most obviously) NBA players do. As had been expected (talks had been going on for a while), on Monday the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players’ union) voted to support the formation of a G-League union, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The G-League players are expected to support this. Sources have told NBC Sports that team and league officials will not oppose the players unionizing, they believe there will be benefits, too.

The primary issue will be pay. Most players in the G-League earn a $35,000 salary, unless they’re an elite high school prospect, or on a two-way contract (which means they are tied to an NBA team and can be called up for 45 days a season). Some players make more through an Exhibit 10 contract with a team — meaning they go to training camp with a team, then get a bonus ($50,000 or so) if they sign with that team’s G-League team.

Other issues would include freedom of player movement, work benefits, and giving the players a voice in other matters like discipline issues.

The NBA continues to push toward each of its teams having a minor-league affiliate. Right now, only the Trail Blazers and Nuggets do not. As the G-League grows, it’s understandable the players want a larger voice in how things are run.

In other news out of the players’ union meeting, Kyrie Irving was voted in as vice president, replacing Paul Gasol. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Chris Paul remains the union president.

Check out Dr. Dre’s Kobe Bryant tribute

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CHICAGO — In a weekend filled with spectacular tributes to Kobe Bryant, this one stood out.

Legendary rapper, songwriter, record producer, and businessman Dr. Dre — a guy who grew up in Los Angeles — released a tribute that stood out (and was highlighted on TNT). Dre did this with Gibson Hazard and Jackson Bannon.

Kobe’s public memorial service takes place Feb. 24 at Staples Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on team’s All-Star plan: Attack James Harden

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
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CHICAGO – James Harden has griped about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning Most Valuable Player last year.

After his team lost to Harden’s in the All-Star game Sunday, Antetokounmpo got in a dig at Harden.

“Offensively, we were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding,” Antetokounmpo said of his team’s strategy late. “That’s who we thought we’d have the opportunity to score on.”

Harden is not a good defender. But this is playing right into his hands. He’s at his best in isolation, especially in the post. He faces far more difficulty when run through actions off the ball or trying to keep up in transition.

Down the stretch, Harden defended more effectively than usual. Not great, but above his usual standard. Good enough for LeBron James‘ team to win.

At least, as Giannis previously noted, the MVP trophy is at his house.

Report: John Beilein expected to decide on future as Cavaliers coach by Tuesday

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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John Beilein is considering resigning as Cavaliers coach.

They play Friday.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst of ESPN on Sunday night:

The Cleveland Cavaliers and John Beilein have discussed the possibility of the coach stepping down before the end of the All-Star break, and Beilein was expected to reach a decision in the next 24-48 hours, league sources told ESPN.

This is part of the larger problem with Beilein, but this wouldn’t be a difficult transition. Assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff already does so much. And players see Bickerstaff – who previously head-coached the Grizzlies – doing so much.

In his long career as a college head coach, Beilein never had a player on a clear NBA track from the moment he arrived on campus. Beilein has so little first-hand experience with NBA players’ temperaments, which can include disrespecting a head coach and turning to an assistant.

With this report public, it’s hard to see how Beilein maintains any credibility with Cavs players if he returns. When players know the coach is finished by the end of the season, they sometimes take license to rebel. Add the dynamic of knowing Beilein considered resigning earlier, and the last couple months of the season could be even messier than the first few.

At best, everyone would accept this miserable arrangement will end soon enough. Players would tune out Beilein and not make waves. And that’s at best! Not an ideal way to develop young players like Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr.