The Clippers made their biggest free agency pickup of the offseason, bringing in heralded NBA journalist Lee Jenkins to join their front office as Executive Director of Research and Identity, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski yesterday.
Jenkins, like the Clippers themselves, hails from San Diego and was a self-professed follower of the team, having grown up watching the Clippers on KTLA. He joined Sports Illustrated in 2007 as a senior writer, and he has been covering the NBA primarily since 2010. Jenkins is one of the league’s premiere long-form writers. He wrote about both Los Angeles teams extensively during his tenure at SI, mining feature after feature from the NBA’s premier media market.
There have been previous instances of basketball writers joining front offices, including John Hollinger being hired by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012 and Luke Winn also leaving SI to become the Director of Prospect Strategy for the Toronto Raptors in 2017. However, Hollinger was hired for his statistical and analytics background, having created PER, and Winn’s coverage of college basketball made him a natural fit to scout prospects for Toronto. Jenkins’ transition seems less obvious.
Nevertheless, years of building relationships with the NBA’s biggest stars made Jenkins a perfect target for the front office. The Clippers’ grand ambitions for the coming offseason have become something of an open secret. The franchise parted ways with Bruce Bowen ostensibly because he made derogatory comments about Kawhi Leonard, one of the biggest prizes of next year’s free agent class. Jenkins, on the other hand, has made a habit of developing bonds and gaining close access to superstars such as LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Paul George, James Harden, and Blake Griffin. (Clipper fans may remember the opus Jenkins wrote regarding the team’s free agency pitch to Griffin last summer.)
The role that Jenkins will fill in the front office is nebulous and unprecedented, given that he is the only NBA executive with his title of Director of Research and Identity. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a Vice President of Identification and Intelligence, which involves overseeing professional and amateur evaluation, but it is unclear if that bears any relationship to what Jenkins will do for the Clippers.
Wojnarowski wrote that Jenkins will be working “alongside President Lawrence Frank, GM Michael Winger and basketball ops.” Jenkins himself cited the job as an opportunity to help build the type of success story he’s used to profiling and to learn more about the process of the league from the opposite side of the curtain.
After years of Doc Rivers controlling most personnel decisions in addition to coaching, it’s refreshing to see the Clippers continue to think more progressively in staffing their front office. The addition of Jenkins comes a year after a near-complete overhaul of the basketball operations personnel. Last summer, general manager Michael Winger was brought in after serving as an executive in Oklahoma City; assistant GM Trent Redden came from the Cavaliers where he was the senior VP of basketball operations; and assistant GM Mark Hughes left the Knicks, where he was director of player personnel. The cherry on top came in the form of special consultant Jerry West, the architect of championship-winning teams for the Lakers.
This front office deserves plaudits for how it handled the Clippers’ first season post-Chris Paul. The team got an excellent return in the Griffin trade and found valuable end-of-the-bench contributors throughout the year. If the Clippers actively pursued Jenkins, they assuredly have a good reason for doing so, even if that reason is unclear to outsiders.
Lee Jenkins has been plugged in to the NBA as well as anybody in the media over the last decade. His ability to forge strong relationships with the best players in the league can only be a boon for the Clippers front office, and whatever else he provides will be gravy. Steve Ballmer has never settled in his attempts to create a contender in Los Angeles, and this hiring represents one more out-of-the-box effort to lead the team into the post-Lob City era.