Last year, the Los Angeles Lakers’ season was marred by controversy, with arguably nothing surpassing when Magic Johnson decided to hold an impromptu press conference before the team’s regular season finale — without telling anyone — to announce that he was resigning as Lakers President of Basketball Operations to return to his luxurious and simple lifestyle as, well, Magic Johnson.
Johnson could have left it at that, but he drew more attention to his unexpected resignation during an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” by saying that he felt betrayed by Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. He went as far as to use the word “backstabbing” to describe his feelings on how Pelinka had behaved during their time together.
Fast forward not even a year later, and the Lakers are the best team in the NBA and are on pace to break their seven-year playoff drought now with Pelinka calling the shots. While Johnson believes he deserves credit for where the team is now, he told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that he no longer holds anything against Pelinka, and that he wishes he would have done certain things differently:
“No regrets, I’m not a regretful guy,” he says. “The only thing I would have done different would be to sit down with Jeanie [Buss] and let her know I was leaving, sit down with LeBron [James] and let him know … otherwise, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I still would have walked away.”
Would you still have ripped Pelinka so much on your way out the door?
”Things happened, forgive and forget. I’ve moved past that, so did Rob,” Johnson says. “Rob and I made up, we’re good, we still talk.”
In fact, it sounds like Johnson may be on better terms with Pelinka than his longtime friend — and Lakers Governor — Jeanie Buss:
In the oddest twist, it turns out that not only do they still share ideas — they spoke a few days ago, Johnson says — but Pelinka is Johnson’s only regular connection to the front office.
”I haven’t talked with Jeanie about everything yet. We’ll get together and have a meeting where there’s no media,” Johnson says. “Yeah, I should have told her what I was going to do.”
Ultimately, the damage that Johnson did to the Lakers was reversible with a few exceptions, such as the premature D’Angelo Russell trade, letting Julius Randle walk for nothing, renouncing Thomas Bryant, trading Ivica Zubac for Mike Muscala, etc. What’s important is that Lakers are in the best spot they’ve been in years, and Johnson played a role in that, for better or for worse.
Still, the less Johnson talks about what he did, didn’t do or could have done, the better his chances are of maintaining his status as one of the greatest Lakers of all time. If he wants to just be Magic Johnson — arguably the greatest point guard of all time and a pioneer for athletes in business outside of basketball — he should just be that. Not keep re-litigating his Lakers management tenure.