The Los Angeles Clippers are currently being investigated by the NBA over questions concerning their pursuit of Kawhi Leonard during free agency in 2019. Recent revelations about that pursuit have made team executive Jerry West look really bad.
Johnny Wilkes, who claims to be close to Leonard and best friends with his uncle Dennis Robertson, has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging West and the Clippers owe him $2.5 million for assisting the team in their pursuit of the All-Star. According to the lawsuit, Wilkes reached out to West in April of 2019 and informed him of his proximity to Leonard and his family and offered to help if the team agreed to pay him $2.5 million. The lawsuit alleges West agreed to the terms.
The Clippers have denied all of those claims, but on Friday there was a new development that doesn't look good for West. TMZ obtained a voicemail Wilkes says West left for him on July 1, 2019 that confirms the relationship between the two. In the recording a man who definitely sounds like West expresses concern about Leonard possibly landing with the Los Angeles Lakers. He calls the Lakers a "shitshow" and also thanks Wilkes for his ongoing help in the Clippers' pursuit.
Part of the voicemail says the following:
""Hey there, this is Jerry calling. I really want to thank you a lot for trying to help. I heard this morning that everyone over in the Lakers' camp thinks they're gonna get him. I just find it hard to believe that he would want to go to that shitshow where he would not even be ... wouldn't even get his name in the paper and he wouldn't be the face of the franchise that's for sure. He might be the best player on the team, but hope things are well and again, I really really appreciate everything you've done. I will keep you apprised of what's going on. But, I do want to get together with you privately and would love to take you to dinner and even Sam if he's around. So I can at least pay my respects to you guys for being so generous and helpful. Take care, talk to you sometime soon. Bye bye.""
West has denied any wrongdoing but even if this is innocent it looks really bad. He's badmouthing another organization in a voicemail with a man who claims he working for the Clippers to steer Leonard there. If this is West on the recording -- and it absolutely sounds like him -- why is he even dealing with Wilkes? If Wilkes had no financial interest, why would he be helping the Clippers or communicating with West?
It's also pretty hilarious that he called the Lakers a "shitshow" just after they traded for Anthony Davis and a few months before they'd begin a championship season. While the Lakers dominated on the way to a championship, West's Clippers imploded in the second round. Looks like Jerry miscalculated that one a bit.
Wilkes' lawsuit also alleges the Clippers offered illegal benefits to Leonard and Robertson as part of their pitch to sign him. Wilkes claims that, at West's direction, he informed Robertson he would "receive a house in Southern California" and paid travel expenses, and that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would "fund a $100,000,000.00 marketing campaign for Kawhi Leonard" if he agreed to play for the franchise.
After Leonard's free agency in 2019, the NBA investigated claims Robertson had repeatedly asked the Lakers for perks in addition to the All-Star's salary. He reportedly made demands that were illegal and, over a series of three phone calls, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss informed Robertson the franchise couldn't accommodate them.
While the Clippers have denied providing extra benefits and Leonard has denied the stories, Wilkes appears to be confirming them. If he has more evidence to provide this whole thing could get really ugly.
The NBA's rules prohibit indirect contact with free agents, like those made through intermediaries. Robertson is not a certified agent and is therefore prohibited from negotiating with teams. Wilkes would fall under the same category. The Clippers could face a fine of $10 million and the loss of draft picks if they violated those rules.
This whole mess won't impact Leonard's relationship with the Clippers, as he's already signed to a contract. But it certainly has cast a shadow over West, who has had a sterling reputation during his 60 years in the NBA. If the voicemail Wilkes provided is legitimate, West comes off looking terrible.