The soap opera that is the Los Angeles Lakers took another turn on Monday. Former president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, told a morning show that he resigned last month because of infighting with owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka.
Johnson, who left the organization on April 9 without giving notice to Buss or anyone else in the organization, said on ESPN’s “First Take,” it became clear to him that his effectiveness was diminished because of forces that sought to limit his power.
“I said (to myself), ‘It’s time to go,’” Johnson said. “I’ve got things happening that were being said behind my back. I don’t have the power that I thought I had to make decisions. And I told them when it’s not fun for me, and I don’t have the decision-making power that I thought I had, I gotta step aside.”
Johnson pointed the finger at several within the organization, and gave a clearer picture, at least from his perspective, of what was going on inside Lakers’ headquarters. Pelinka, who was named general manager the same time Johnson was hired, received the lion’s share of criticism. Johnson said he was talking, “behind my back.”
“I start hearing, ‘Magic, you are not working hard enough. Magic’s not in the office,'” Johnson told First Take. “People around the Lakers office were telling me Rob was saying things, Rob Pelinka, and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn’t in the office enough. So I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball now, just not in the Lakers office anymore.”
Johnson called it a “betrayal,” but Pelinka, speaking at the introductory press conference of new coach Frank Vogel, denied the allegations.
“I think the most important thing for me is the two years of being able to work side by side with Earvin are the some of the greatest memories I have in sports and work,” Pelinka said. “He is an unbelievable person to work with. He fills the room with joy and vision. It’s really saddening and disheartening to think he believes things are in this perception. I think all of us in life probably have been through things where maybe there’s third party, there’s he said, she said things that aren’t true. I have talked to him several times since he decided to step away and we had many joyous conversations.”
Walton Situation Last Straw
Johnson said he could get past Pelinka’s actions, but what showed him his future with the Lakers was the decision to keep coach Luke Walton. Johnson apparently wanted to fire Walton, and went to Buss for approval.
Johnson, 59, said initially Buss approved firing Walton, but changed her mind twice, and was convinced to keep him by COO Tim Harris, who had gotten involved in a personnel matter that Johnson thought he had the power to make.
“Right now everybody has a voice,” Johnson said. “And that’s why sometimes we don’t make the right decision.”
One person Johnson had nothing but good things to say about was LeBron James. He also said he regretted not calling the superstar to tell him he was leaving.
“Listen, this guy is special,” Johnson said of James. “He has helped our young players so much. He’s made Kyle Kuzma better, Brandon Ingram better. The way he approaches the game … and I’ll tell you who he really took aside, Lonzo Ball. He has been a great influence.”