The Los Angeles Clippers are denying wrongdoing alleged in a lawsuit by a man who said the team owes him $2.5 million for helping to recruit star forward Kawhi Leonard before the 2019-20 season.
The Clippers confirmed on Thursday that the NBA is investigating the allegations arising from the lawsuit, which was filed on Monday.
Jerry Wilkes is accusing the team and consultant Jerry West of reneging on an oral agreement to assist the Clippers in luring Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player and also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
West and the team issued statements calling the allegations untrue.
“I am not aware of any lawsuit being filed against me, and I deny engaging in any improper conduct in connection with the signing of Kawhi Leonard,” TMZ reported, quoting West.
Leonard also denied that Wilkes had any role in his decision.
“Not at all,” Leonard said after the team’s 125-105 loss to the Jazz on Thursday night. “That has nothing to do with me. Nobody swayed my mind to go [to the Clippers].”
The Clippers said the lawsuit “is replete with inaccuracies, and the allegations are baseless. The Clippers are fully cooperating with the NBA in its investigation, which is standard when these types of allegations are made. (The Clippers) are providing the NBA with evidence that the allegations are false.”
Wilkes, who said he is a good friend of Leonard and best friend of Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson, alleges that the Clippers agreed to pay him in return for the help he could provide in landing Leonard.
The lawsuit claims that Wilkes told a man named Sam Watson “that the Clippers needed to sign Paul George in order to get Kawhi Leonard to sign,” and that this message was delivered to the team.
The Clippers completed a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire George on July 10, 2019, the day after signing Leonard to a three-year, $103.1 million contract. Leonard has a player option for the 2021-22 season.
Also in the lawsuit, Wilkes alleges that, under the “direction” of West, he told Robertson that if Leonard signed with the Clippers, Robertson would “receive a house in Southern California” along with a travel expense and that Clippers own Steve Ballmer would “fund a $100,000,000.00 marketing campaign for Kawhi Leonard.”
NBA rules prohibit “indirect communications, such as those made through intermediaries,” and the Clippers could be fined up to $10 million and lose draft picks if they are found to have violated the rule, according to reporting by ESPN.
Leonard, a nine-year veteran, led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in 2018-2019 in his only season with the team. He spent his first seven seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
West, 82, was a Hall of Fame player for the Los Angeles Lakers who later became one of the NBA’s top executives.