Magic was rendered powerless and he had just one option: quit.
LOS ANGELES – Don’t believe Magic Johnson – at all.
It’s hard to believe that Johnson, the legendary Hall of Fame former Laker, abruptly quit as the team’s president of basketball operations on Tuesday night, saying he wanted to go back to having fun and being the “old Magic.”
In less than two seasons, it was a quick reversal from when Johnson was hired and promised to restore the famous Los Angeles Lakers franchise to the NBA elite and his goal to deliver another championship.
Instead, Johnson shocked NBA America when he made the announcement in an impromptu press conference at Staples Center prior to the Lakers’ final game of a disastrous 2018-2019 season. The Lakers, despite getting LeBron in free agency, failed to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
“I was happier when I wasn’t the president,” Johnson said to the media. “When you gotta make trades, you’re not happy.”
Magic added,”I’m happy to be back being Magic Johnson.”
But if you really listened to Johnson’s words in that endless press conference and separated them from the smoke screens mixed in, the message was clear: Magic lost a power struggle with team owner Jeanie Buss.
Johnson had his scapegoat for this mess called Lakers basketball and wanted to fire head coach Luke Walton after the game.
It had been rumored for weeks. Plus, there were stories floated by James’ camp that LeBron wasn’t fond of his coaching style.
When a team doesn’t make the playoffs with arguably the best player on the planet, the coach would ultimately pay with his job. In professional sports, this is business as usual.
But not in LA.
That’s because the owner adores Walton. In fact, she loves him to a fault. Nothing is ever Walton’s fault.
And given the fact that Walton wasn’t hired by either Magic or GM Rob Pelinka, it seemed elementary that Walton would be dumped as the management team moved into its third season in control.
Johnson, of course, claimed that didn’t happen and he had full power to run the team.
“She gave me the power, that is the same page. I could have done anything I wanted to, tomorrow. But I decided to step down,” he said.
The concept is mind boggling in pro sports. Coaches are hired and fired all the time. It comes with the job, especially because teams usually can’t fire the whole team when things go bad.
Now, here’s Johnson honestly saying rather than pull the trigger on letting Walton go, he’ll go.
Magic was rendered powerless. He had just one option: quit.
And that’s not to say that Johnson was a great team president. In fact, Johnson was bad.
There were way too many mistakes made along the way.
Sure, getting James was a feather in his cap. But did Johnson really get the prize free agent? Or was it simply the case that James wanted to be in Hollywood and was coming here regardless of who was the leader of the ship and despite what a bad roster that he had to play with.
Johnson was criticized for getting rid of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, both former Lakers’ draft picks, who had breakout seasons.
Magic’s pick of Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick in the NBA draft two years ago hasn’t panned out at all.
And that roster that was put together for this season didn’t work with LeBron’s strengths.
Most NBA people wondered where the shooters were when the Lakers picked up one-year free agents Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee.
The other two blunders that haunted Johnson’s tenure: he assumed Paul George was coming back home to play and didn’t pursue him properly. George decided to stay with the Thunder. Worse, George wouldn’t even take a meeting with Magic.
And during this season, the public courting of Anthony Davis was bad. This blew up in Johnson’s face when the Pelicans weren’t interested in trading him to LA. Worse, all the young Lakers were exposed publicly as trade bait. It crushed them to know LeBron didn’t want them. It crashed and burned the season.
Magic never liked losing when he played the game. On Tuesday, Magic lost big and decided to quit. It seems pretty obvious.