It’s not clear who will replace Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers in the wake of Johnson’s surprise resignation last week, but we now know one person who it won’t be: Former Lakers coach Pat Riley.
At the end his end-of-season press conference with the Miami Heat, Riley said he didn’t want to talk extensively about the Lakers’ job, but he made it clear he has no interest in leaving South Beach for South Bay (via Shandel Richardson of The Athletic):
“I mean, I’m not going to comment on another team’s misfortune while they’re going through some adversity right now,” Riley said at his annual end-of-the-season press conference at AmericanAirlines Arena. “There’s no doubt that I have a history with that team. I was there for 20 years and I have a lot of friends still in the organization. I had a good conversation with Magic after he stepped down and I’m sure they’ll work it out. I’m not going to be part of that. That’s not what I want to do.”
That clears that up, even if there weren’t really any legitimate reports linking Riley to the job in L.A. yet. This is also probably for the best for both sides, for a few reasons.
Riley is as accomplished as executives come, but he and James’ relationship appeared to be frosty (from the outside, at least) after James’ departure from the Heat, something that Riley admitted made him “angry” at the time, even if has since said James “did the right thing.”
It’s unknown exactly how well the two get along now, but the last thing the Lakers need is one more potentially dysfunctional relationship in a franchise that’s been full of them of late.
Even outside of that, it’s not clear if Riley still has his fastball as an executive, as while there have been mitigating factors causing the Heat to struggle over the last few years, their roster-building strategy — both via trades and free agency — has left them with some questionable contracts and not a ton of success, even in the Eastern Conference.
Riley is also a part owner of the Heat, making him taking any other job than the one he had more complicated than it would be for most executives.
There is also the reality that the Lakers are probably at the point where they need to stop trying to cover their greatest hits, or dose their fans with nostalgia (“hey, remember when we were good with this guy?!?”). The experiment of bringing Johnson back failed, as did the Luke Walton and Byron Scott coaching eras.
The bottom line is that there are too many capable basketball people on the planet for the Lakers to continue to make “having been a franchise legend or worked for one” a job requirement. Even if it seems that for now they are content to have Rob Pelinka run the show, if they do eventually decide to hire a boss or underling for him, it might be time to at least interview someone whose number they don’t already have on speed dial.