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Whichever direction Lakers go in post-Magic Johnson, Jeanie Buss will be held accountable in ways she hasn’t been before

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Jeanie Buss has skated by to a large extent on plausible deniability. No matter how the Lakers move on in the wake of the stunning departure of Magic Johnson, those days are over.

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Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

In the sixth book of the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” there’s a scene from Albus Dumbledore’s funeral in which Harry sits there and realizes saving the world is on him at this point. It symbolizes the need to realize accountability for one’s responsibilities and reads as follows:

“And Harry saw very clearly as he sat there under the hot sun how people who cared about him had stood in front of him one by one, his mother, his father, his godfather, and finally Dumbledore, all determined to protect him; but now that was over. He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort; he must abandon forever the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one, that the shelter of a parent’s arms meant that nothing could hurt him. There was no waking from this nightmare, no comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really, that it was all in his imagination; the last and greatest of his protectors had died, and he was more alone than he had ever been.”

I thought about this scene while thinking about the position to Jeanie Buss in currently. To this point, Buss has lived a very charmed life when it comes to Lakers analysis. When Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were around, she could wash her hands completely of any mistakes they made because, a) she didn’t put them in those positions and, b) her job was to focus on the business side of the organization anyway.

When Jeanie completed her coup two years ago, forcing Jim to step away and firing Mitch Kupchak altogether, she took her first steps in assuming responsibility for the Lakers’ direction. In a matter of hours, however, she appointed Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations and assigned him Rob Pelinka as general manager.

From that point on, she stated at every turn that she would be once again focusing on the business aspect of the Lakers and trusted those she hired completely to handle basketball.

Magic was seen by many at the time of his hiring as the greatest Laker of all time. For most, that remains the case. But with him gone, Jeanie’s last and greatest protector is now out of the picture and, like Harry, she’ll have to assume full responsibility for where the Lakers go from here.

There are no more Laker greats stepping up to assume that role, especially now that they’ve seen how it went for Magic.

Kobe Bryant has separated himself from the Lakers anytime he’s been asked about his interest in helping with the team.

Pat Riley says he’s still focused on the Miami Heat.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has never appeared all that intrigued by a front office position, nor have the Lakers ever seemed interested in giving him one.

Jerry West might be convinced to come to the Lakers, but all signs point to his relationship with Jeanie being beyond the point of recovery.

Oh, and Phil Jackson was such a disaster with the New York Knicks that he can’t be seriously considered at this point, and that’s before you get to his and Jeanie’s failed engagement and the complications that would stem from them becoming co-workers afterwards.

All this leaves is Jeanie. It should surprise no one that she’s clung to Rob Pelinka even when the prudent move was to clean house altogether. He’s the last vestige of Kobe and as such, she might think he could serve as at least a temporary shield in case this doesn’t end well.

If that’s what she thinks, though, she couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s one thing to fail with the first hires she made. She was inexperienced and valued the wrong things at the time. Fortunately for Jeanie, even while Magic’s desire to return to the freedom of Twitter was hugely embarrassing for everyone involved, he leaves no lasting damage in the way Jim and Mitch did. The Lakers remain hugely salvageable at this point actually, with LeBron James and the young core still being around, with enough cap space to team them with another all-star to boot.

So while one misfire on front office hires is forgivable — and maybe even understandable — for an owner that has never had to make such decisions before, it’s another thing altogether to whiff twice, and especially if it’s for the same reasons.

Jeanie targeted Magic with zero candidate search out of her personal ties to Johnson, and then immediately thereafter appointed Pelinka due to his proximity to Kobe. For her to be presented with this promising an opportunity to make up for those mistakes and then double down by moving forward with Pelinka again, all without at least fielding an interview or two, would place her squarely in the sights of anyone looking for blame should this not work out.

Now, maybe Pelinka is actually a shrewd executive who was being held back by Magic’s poor work ethic and volatile nature in making decisions. It’s certainly what everyone has to hope for. However, if he isn’t, and the Lakers squander not only this opportunity to right Jeanie’s wrongs, but also waste the three years LeBron committed to the organization, the blame should and will fall squarely on her shoulders. Especially if keeping Pelinka is precluding the Lakers from some of the top executives the NBA has to offer, as many around the situation seem to think.

Buss has maintained plausible deniability through her focus on “the business.” The thing with a professional basketball team, however, is: The basketball is the business. Without basketball decisions being made intelligently, the business is going to suffer. This was always the case, but Jeanie had figured out a way to get fans to not really consider that relationship.

At its core, Harry Potter as a series was about the need to grow up, make tough choices and then deal with the consequences of those decisions. While Harry’s childhood was littered with those who tried to stand between him and his fate, he eventually realized that and did what he had to in order to save the world.

Jeanie obviously isn’t dealing with those stakes, but she is facing a similar situation. In hiring Magic and Pelinka, she found protection from what has always been coming: Accountability. The sooner she realizes that she can’t separate herself from that with further nepotism and cronyism, the sooner she can live up to the promises she made her father and the millions around the world pulling for her.

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