Amid the various inflammatory details Magic Johnson offered up in his appearance Monday morning on ESPN’s First Take, none were more concerning than his description of the inner workings of the Los Angeles Lakers front office.
It sounds, based on Johnson’s summary, like a chaotic situation to say the least:
“Jeanie (Buss) will always make the final decisions, but she huddles up with Linda Rambis and probably now, I think Phil Jackson advises her a little bit, and now Kurt Rambis is home. And I was happy Kurt was back because I wanted more basketball experience with the Lakers. We didn’t have a lot of former NBA players with us, and we needed some. So Kurt came back, which was good. Smart guy. But somebody’s got to be the leader.”
Johnson is absolutely right about one thing: At the end of the day, someone has to be entrusted to make the final decision. Seeing as Buss doesn’t sound all that interested in making such decisions, she has to empower someone and then have everyone around that person fall in line. To this point, it’s more of a free-for all.
Johnson went even deeper into not only how the front office is being run, but why he wanted no part of it and stepped down:
“If you’re going to talk ‘betrayal,’ that’s only with Rob. But again, I had to look inside myself, right? But I had been doing that for months, because I didn’t like that Tim Harris was too involved in basketball. He’s supposed to run the Laker business, but he was trying to come over to our side. Jeanie’s gotta stop that.
At one point, earlier in the interview, Johnson had revealed that Harris — the Lakers chief operating officer in charge of their business — had stepped in to stop Johnson, at least in part, from firing Luke Walton. He did this because, according to Johnson, “Tim wanted to keep him because he was friends with Luke.”
People in an organization getting along is all well and good, but not firing someone for poor performance because they’re your friend isn’t a great way for a billion-dollar organization to operate. And according to Johnson, Harris isn’t the only voice chiming in on such decisions:
“You’ve got to stop people from having those voices, because what happens is everybody gets to share their opinion, and there is so much information coming at her (Jeanie Buss) that then when I say hey we have to do this, she can’t make a decision because they said ‘no, don’t go the way Magic goes, you should go left...
“Her love and respect for those people often caused us to not make the right choice, or there’s no decision. And so I said ‘listen, you can’t run a corporation like this. You can’t have everybody think that they can have a voice or an opinion about the final decision. That was supposed to be me as the president, having that final say. So I’m hoping now, even with me gone, I’m so happy for the Lakers, I’m happy for Frank Vogel because I think he’s a good coach, but I thought Ty Lue was better. But I’m gonna support Frank.
“Now you’ve got to empower somebody. And then have everybody who has a role with the Lakers, stay in that role. Okay Tim Harris, you’re the president of business, stay over there in business. Jesse, Joey, you’re the general manager of the Lakers, assistant to Rob, Joey you run the G League team, then do that. And do it well. Once you show that you can drive excellence, now maybe you can move over to another department, but right now everybody has a voice, and it’s too much.
“That’s why sometimes we don’t make the right decision, right? So I’m hoping that with me leaving that they can get it right, because I’m supporting them. I love them. I love all of them, but I’m here on this show to say ‘listen, this is what we have to do.’”
We’ve already seen this poor organizational structure manifest itself in the failed hirings of either the Lakers’ first or second preferred head coach candidates. Some wanted Monty Williams. Others preferred Ty Lue. And as a result, the paralysis that set in as a result of having so many cooks in the kitchen landed someone the Lakers originally only considered a candidate to be an assistant coach.
Johnson finished with what he thinks Buss has to do if the Lakers hope to have any chance at operating remotely close to other competent teams across the league:
“I think that Jeanie has to say ‘okay, you’re in charge of this, you’re in charge of that, you guys just do your job.’ And she’s a wonderful overseer, it’s just too many people have too many opinions and too much power.”
Magic, my guy. You can’t outline all that dysfunction and then say Jeanie is a “wonderful overseer.” She very obviously is not. Come on.
Still, his points stand. So long as everyone thinks they have a say (and more importantly, power), the Lakers are going to remain stuck in their own way. What happens when the Rambii prefer one free agent to whoever Pelinka thinks makes the most sense? Whose choice winds up the one they roll with when it is Harris pitted against Buss’ closest advisor, Linda? Any hesitation on these things can be a killer, and this dysfunction would be a hinderance to any organization, and just can’t end possibly well.
While it was hugely unprofessional of Johnson to crap on his former employer the way he did Monday morning, he did shed light on an organization that has tried to operate in the dark since he resigned more than a month ago. Unfortunately, that light Johnson offered us only further confirms the concerns we already had about the Lakers, and it’s fair to wonder if those tasked with fixing those flaws are capable — or willing — to do so.