Since beloved and legendary Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss passed away in February of 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled on and off the court. There was the free agency departure of Dwight Howard after an injury plagued sweep in the first round of the 2013 playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs, followed by the Lakers missing out on major free agents the next two seasons while setting a new team low for victories in two consecutive years. Kobe Bryant has also played in just 54 of 177 games since signing a mammoth 2-year, 48 million dollar extension that will see him retire a Laker after spending 20 years in the purple and gold.
Magic Johnson has never been shy in assigning public blame for the Lakers' struggles with the man who stepped in for Buss, his son Jim. In comments made to the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, Johnson declared that while he likes Jim Buss personally, he believes he needs to remove himself from the basketball decision making process:
"I'm going to say it again: I love Jim Buss. He should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner," Johnson said. "Let's go back with facts, so I can back this up with facts: 27 wins a couple years ago, 21 wins last year. Three summers now, we haven't signed anybody. I am backing this up with facts. We haven't signed any superstar. We've had cap space. We had cap space last summer. We're going to have more this summer."
Johnson is right to say that the Lakers have not signed a superstar over the past two summers, but the "facts" are that the team has been able to use the high draft picks made possible by their struggles to acquire some promising young players in D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, in addition to purchasing Jordan Clarkson's draft rights. Still, Magic believes that Buss should focus on putting the most talented people in place to make basketball decisions for him:
"You've got to get somebody to help [Buss] out," said Johnson, an unpaid Lakers vice president. "Just play your role. There's nothing wrong with being a great owner.
"Just like me — I didn't try to get involved in this [hiring] process, because I don't know anything about the manager [Roberts]. That's not what I know, so I stay out of the way. I want to sit down there and cheer for my Dodgers. I'm happy with that. That is what I want him to do. Just let somebody else help him to achieve his goal, which is to get the Lakers back to being great again."
As Johnson is almost certainly aware, Buss does have someone to "help him out," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who Buss collaborates with on all basketball decisions. That slight inaccuracy aside, Magic may get his wish soon, with Buss under a self-imposed deadline to return the Lakers to contention within two seasons or step down from his current post.
This is not the first time Johnson has criticized Jim Buss. Over the summer, the former Lakers point guard accused Buss of "pointing the finger everywhere but himself" for the franchises' struggles and claimed he was beginning to lose the Lakers' fanbase. Until the Lakers have success again or Buss resigns, expect Magic to continue to share similar opinions.