The 2018-19 season is all but over for the Los Angeles Lakers, and everyone around the team is emptying the clip to reporters as they try to shift the narrative in their favor. The latest target of a few leaks has been president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, who — according to Bill Oram of the Athletic in a must-read and well-sourced feature — is seen around the league as “an absentee executive.” This is far from the first time we’ve heard such rumblings, rumblings that even sometimes make it to your favorite bloggers.
And I know, some will decry that as “fake news,” or say people around the NBA are just trying to make the Lakers look bad, and while the latter might be true, there is mounting evidence that the info being used to make Johnson look bad isn’t exactly inaccurate, as is perhaps best illustrated by a screengrab of Ramona Shelburne of ESPN’s appearance on “The Jump”:
Here is the video, with Shelburne talking around the three-minute mark:
I opened #TheJump noting how so many of the Lakers' issues have zero to do with Luke Walton, so whether they fire him or not, they can't expect change until they face their deeper truths. Then @RamonaShelburne reported Magic hasn't spoken to Luke in weeks, and everyone went nuts: pic.twitter.com/fDgJaIKs3C— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 9, 2019
Whether you think Walton is a goner or not, that would indeed seem to be a problem!
In all seriousness, high-functioning organizations don’t have that kind of communication disparity, and in case you want to just chalk that up to Johnson being out scouting college games — a charitable assessment, to be sure — it sounds like this is probably deeper than that (as most would expect):
That would seem to be Shelburne — as well sourced as anyone around the Lakers — implying that the current coach and front office don’t have cohesion, which basically anyone could have guessed when Johnson’s response to his closed-doors tirade towards Walton leaking and putting the coach firmly on the hot seat was to essentially say he probably wouldn’t fire him midseason. Maybe.
Now, it’s fair to note that there probably isn’t a lot for Walton and Johnson to talk about at this time of year, and that we probably already knew that Johnson didn’t think highly of Walton, and that their relationship wasn’t great as a result. Walton is not blameless in that either, and he has shown flaws as a coach this season.
But rather than taking away that there is context that makes this stuff sound less bad, the larger takeaway here would seem to be, to me, that there are people that want it known that Johnson isn’t exactly on the job all the time. Sure, people in Walton’s camp or others around the league have a clear motivation to want that known, but it makes the Lakers look bad just the same, no matter how it’s defended. And right before what everyone knows is a critical offseason for the team.
Beyond anything else moving forward, the team really needs to deal with the perception problem they clearly have around the league, and by some within their own building.
Whether they fire Walton or keep him, or go after a new general manager to replace Rob Pelinka, or any other path forward, they need to tamp down on the kind of stuff that makes them look bad, because while Johnson and Pelinka were brought in to bring some luster back to the Lakers, they’ve arguably only managed to further damage perception of the team around the league, even in spite of signing LeBron James. Outside of the on-court and roster-construction failings of this year, that perception is something that owner Jeanie Buss needs to consider and address if she really wants to bring this team back to the illustrious level it was at for so long.