Magic Johnson announced that he is stepping down as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers before the team’s final game of the season (via Bill Oram of The Athletic):
Magic Johnson says he is stepping down as president of basketball operations.— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 10, 2019
Johnson told reporters that his decision was in part due to not wanting to stand between Jeanie Buss and Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who told reporters earlier in the evening that he wasn’t sure about his future with the team:
Luke Walton asked before Game 82 if he has any anxiety about his future with the Lakers: “No. No anxiety. ... But call me later tonight and maybe that answer will be different”— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 10, 2019
Magic said this decision was not about the decision with Luke Walton, but has now said it made him uncomfortable to be in a position between Jeanie and Luke.— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 10, 2019
Takeaways from Magic Johnson's abrupt resignation:— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) April 10, 2019
- he has not told ANYONE before this moment
- he didn't like restrictions on what he could do and say
- he seemed to have disagreements with Jeanie Buss and Luke Walton over the direction of the team
Magic on the Luke decision and the autonomy Jeanie gave him. “She told me yesterday you have the power. ... I didn’t want to put her or myself in that situation.”— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 10, 2019
On Jeanie: “I think she’s going to be caught off guard. And I think she’ll be hurt by not having somebody she can trust...” Says once she sees his face she’ll understand this was the right decision for him.— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 10, 2019
And it sounds like Johnson wasn’t making up the part about not telling anyone. This was really out of nowhere:
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka visited with LeBron James and agent Rich Paul on Saturday, league sources tell ESPN. Johnson offered no indication that he was on the brink of bailing on the Lakers, sources said.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 10, 2019
Magic Johnson had a three-hour meeting with @JeanieBuss yesterday, per Johnson. They discussed the direction of the organization. He gave no indication he no longer wanted to be part of it.— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) April 10, 2019
Johnson also made it clear that the tampering scrutiny he received affected his decision. It seems he did in part just miss getting to talk about basketball:
Magic says the Ben Simmons situation hurt him because it made him “look like the bad guy.” Wants to be able to mentor people around the league. “Hopefully I can go back to who I was before I took this job.”— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 10, 2019
Magic Johnson said he will return to community work and reaching out to players around the league to help in their development: “I’m a free bird and I can’t be handcuffed ... This is a good day.”— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 10, 2019
It doesn’t sound like this was an easy decision for Johnson, either:
“It’s hard when you love an organization like I love this organization,” Magic Johnson says as he starts to cry. “It’s hard when you love a person like I love Jeanie.” Talks about how much Jeanie loves Luke too.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) April 10, 2019
And while Johnson is stepping down, he says he’s still optimistic about the franchise’s future:
Magic: "You know how many calls Jeanie will get about this job tomorrow?"— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) April 10, 2019
Magic on the allure of the job he is vacating: “Everything is in place. We add one guy, and this team is in the Western Conference Finals.”— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) April 10, 2019
Magic has repeatedly said that he was happier before he took this job. Believes the young core with LeBron can contend once it adds another star player.— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 10, 2019
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss thanked Johnson on Twitter, and the Lakers released a brief statement thanking him as well:
There is no greater Los Angeles Laker than Earvin Johnson. We are deeply grateful to Magic for all that he has done for our franchise – as a player, an ambassador and an executive.
We thank him for his work these past two years as our President of Basketball Operations and wish him, Cookie, Andre, EJ and Elisa all the best with their next steps. He will always be not only a Lakers icon, but our family.
As we begin the process of moving forward, we will work in a measured and methodical fashion to make the right moves for the future of our organization.
Johnson was brought on as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations in 2017 with the hope of bringing the franchise that he spent 13 seasons with back to its championship-winning ways.
In spite of having early success starting with the 2017 NBA Draft, where the team was able to pick up Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant, it appears as though the job was harder than Johnson anticipated it to be.
Like the front office regime before him, Johnson was banking on the luster of the Lakers to lure free agents to Los Angeles and while he was able to sign LeBron James — the biggest fish in the pond — last summer, every move he’s made since then has been subject to strong but warranted criticism, including his decision to let Thomas Bryant, Julius Randle and Brook Lopez walk in free agency, his decision not to pair James with shooters and most recently his decision to trade Ivica Zubac to the LA Clippers for Mike Muscala.
However, the decisions weren’t made alone. Johnson is in charge of basketball operations along with general manager Rob Pelinka. Assuming the Lakers conduct a search for a new president of basketball operations, Pelinka could very well be on his way out next, and that might be the right call fo all parties involved.
For his part, Johnson didn’t exactly endorse him (or Walton):
Magic Johnson is asked if he’d like to see Luke Walton remain coach. He’s asked if he thinks Rob Pelinka is the right GM for the organization. To both questions he says that’s up to Jeanie Buss.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) April 10, 2019
There’s no denying that Johnson had his faults as an executive, but the one positive that can be taken away from this is that Magic knew when his hour was up. He deserves credit for walking away now.
Magic Johnson is not just a Los Angeles icon, but a global sports icon and is generally regarded as one of the most joyful people on this big blue Earth. With the job he was doing running one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, he was in danger of hurting his legacy as one of the all-time Lakers greats.
Granted, some of that damage is irreversible, but at least he didn’t stick around long enough to make an even bigger mess this summer, which promises to be a pivotal for the organization’s future.
It might not be the way Buss envisioned Johnson’s tenure coming to an end, but it’s the way Johnson wanted it. If there’s anything that can be said about Magic, it’s that he does things on his own terms, for better or for worse. For now, we’ll argue that this is for the former, even if it means this summer just got even crazier and more pivotal for the Lakers, with another huge variable thrown in.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @RadRivas.