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Despite ‘betrayal,’ Magic Johnson doesn’t want Rob Pelinka fired

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Magic Johnson may not want Rob Pelinka fired, but all the talk of betrayal is not really helping the Lakers, or anyone, really.

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Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson & Rob Pelinka Los Angeles Lakers Media Availability Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

After going scorched earth on the Lakers during an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take,” Magic Johnson continued his random media tour on Monday afternoon by sitting down with Brad Turner of the L.A. Times.

In his latest interview, he mostly echoed the things he said on ESPN, including how he feels about Lakers general Rob Pelinka now, and whether he thinks the Lakers would be wise to continue to employ the man he accused of backstabbing while Johnson was president of basketball operations:

“We don’t know. How can we say that? Nobody knows that,” Johnson said. “I think he’ll need some help surrounding him, yes. But we don’t know. We don’t know the answer of that.

“All of us as Lakers fans got to do one thing: We got to support Frank Vogel as the coach. And Rob is in that position, we got to support him — until otherwise. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, fire him,’ because of what happened. No, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is, this is what happened and now let’s make sure going forward these things don’t continue to happen anymore. That’s the bottom line.”

Magic’s response in Turner’s piece followed a similar vibe to what he said when he was asked about this topic earlier Monday morning on ESPN:

“I’m not saying, ‘Oh, fire him,’ because of what happened. No, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is, this is what happened and now let’s make sure going forward these things don’t continue to happen anymore. That’s the bottom line.”

The similarity of those two quotes highlights the reality that Johnson seems to want a message out there, making the timing of all this all the more weird, seeing as the Lakers would only hours after Johnson’s appearance on “First Take” introduce Frank Vogel for the first time as Lakers head coach. As a result, all but a couple questions asked at the presser had to do with Johnson’s inflammatory interview.

Still, Johnson told Turner the timing was purely coincidental:

“Again, I’m about everything being right with the Lakers. I’m never going to do anything wrong or go against the Lakers or go against Jeanie,” Johnson said. “Even right now, I’m not going against Rob, but I’m going to tell the truth. But I’m not against him. I talked to Rob on Saturday. Write that. When he calls in a day or two, I’m still going to talk to him. That’s who I am. I talked to Jeanie last week right before they went to Chicago. I’m going to always talk to the Lakers. Listen, I’m a Laker for life. That’s who I am and I want us to win.”

Johnson can try to convince everyone that he only wants what is best for the Lakers, but this isn’t helping. Interviews like he gave Monday morning only further complicate an already sticky situation. Pelinka’s reputation was already on shaky ground before Johnson — one of the foremost voices in NBA media and one of the game’s all-time greats — accused him repeatedly of underhanded behavior.

At some point, Pelinka is going to have to sit down with free agents, and one question that their representation will likely start with is a demand for some clarity on how he conducts business not just with the Lakers, but in the league as a whole. Thanks to Magic’s comments, he’ll have even more of an uphill battle to convince anyone that he is actually trustworthy.

Again, as has been said all day, no one wins here. The Lakers continue to look like a dumpster fire, and Johnson looks petty for putting all this out there. Meanwhile, Vogel was put in an almost impossible situation with his presser (that he handled about as well as he could) and Pelinka continues to look worse even as a pseudo replacement for Johnson.

And while all this has gone on, where’s Jeanie Buss, the person who empowered all these people? While Vogel was talking about “organizational togetherness,” Buss was nowhere to be seen. Joey and Jesse Buss were at the practice facility. Hell, even LeBron James watched from the background even while we know this isn’t the coach he preferred.

Even if Buss isn’t ready to comment on the alleged backstabbing done by Pelinka, or the actual backstabbing Johnson is doing in the media, merely making an appearance to try to show everyone is on the same page doesn’t seem like too much to ask. None of the other Buss siblings answered questions Monday afternoon. They sat down, showed support and left.

None of this is particularly difficult, but because no one involved seems capable of getting out of their own way, the Lakers continue to lose control of the narrative even when presented opportunities to steer it in a direction that puts them in a brighter light. And Johnson has to recognize the damage he’s doing to those efforts, too. No matter how many times he tries to remind us all about how his focus is on what’s best for the Lakers, the fact remains that his actions (other than actually stepping down) show that he cares more about his perception than aiding the team he once ran.

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