The Los Angeles Lakers clearly had a communication problem when Magic Johnson was still with the team. This was perhaps best emphasized by the fact that Johnson stepped down without telling Jeanie Buss, LeBron James or anyone else beforehand. It has also been evident since, with Johnson complaining on ESPN’s “First Take” of how he felt that Rob Pelinka was talking badly about him behind his back, and that there were too many voices stopping the Lakers from making decisions.
But if you go back further, the signs were always there that the Lakers weren’t exactly communicating with each other well, something that was fully on display in their response extensive reporting about their offers for Anthony Davis at the trade deadline being called “fake news” by Buss, who complimented Johnson for getting in front of such reports.
However, it seems like Johnson may have been part of the reason Buss felt that the rumors about how many players they had offered the Pelicans weren’t true, because according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, Johnson didn’t tell Buss the full extent of what he was offering for Davis:
According to someone familiar with the situation, the disconnect stems back to the trade deadline. Johnson apparently offered the New Orleans Pelicans more in a trade for All-Star forward Anthony Davis (notably Lonzo Ball) than had been communicated with Buss.
And before anyone finds a way to call Johnson not communicating with his boss about the entire haul he was offering New Orleans just more “fake news” — an obnoxious phrase, but I digress — it certainly sounds like Johnson himself was one of the people communicating those offers to the media:
Some believe that Johnson, the only Lakers representative aware of what was offered to New Orleans, was in part responsible for some of the leaks. That’s a mystery, but it may have contributed to Buss’ reevaluation of her circle of trust, with Johnson needing damage control.
It’s worth noting that Johnson denied such accusations, blaming Pelicans general manager Dell Demps, but no one is going to admit to leaking, and the Pelicans have similarly pointed to the Lakers as the source of the reports. The truth is that it would be shocking if both sides weren’t leaking considerable information, given how much of the process became ugly and public.
Regardless, the disconnect between Johnson and Buss (and by extension, the Lakers) continued into Monday, when Johnson blasted them on television despite — according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN — denying both to Buss’ face and on the phone that he had any issues with Pelinka:
This time around, Johnson blindsided her not once but twice. The second time came Monday morning when he went on First Take and aired his grievances with her, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and Lakers business operations president Tim Harris.
Buss had questioned Johnson several times in the wake of his public resignation, asking him if there were any issues with Pelinka or anyone else in the organization. They spoke on the phone for hours. They went to a private dinner at Wally’s in Beverly Hills on May 2. Multiple Lakers sources told ESPN that each time, Johnson said nothing beyond what he’d said on April 9 -- that he didn’t feel like he could be Magic in this role and wanted his freedom back.
And all this is without getting too far into Johnson’s claims on “First Take” that he had Buss’ approval to be “in and out” of the office — and his job — because he makes “more money” through his business interests than he did with the Lakers, despite his claim upon being hired that he would do the exact opposite of that:
Magic Johnson today: "When we sat down & negotiated, I told (Jeanie) I can't give up my businesses. I make more money doing that than becoming the President of the Lakers. So, you know I'm going to be in & out. I said is that ok with you? She said yes."— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) May 21, 2019
Magic when he was hired: pic.twitter.com/UC78rNjajm
So now we have evidence that Johnson has misled Buss, or the media and the public, or all three, seemingly saying whatever he thinks will get the best reaction in whichever current setting he’s in. Where does this leave the Lakers? Well, for one thing, likely better off with Johnson no longer in charge, despite yesterday’s fireworks. How could other executives trust someone who has been caught with their foot in their mouth this many times moving forward? How could the Lakers do so internally?
They probably would have a harder time if Johnson still worked for the team, but Pelinka diffused those bombs his former boss dropped on him just hours before the Lakers tried to introduce their new coach in classy fashion, declining to fire back at Johnson and make the mudslinging worse, and the Lakers seem content to let their eventual results justify their actions.
It’s unknown if they will be able to win enough to turn the narrative tide after a month-plus of nonsense, but they would at least seem to be better set up for success without a president of basketball operations who is not only seems to be more concerned with being liked than having success, but also one who misleads their owner — plus the media and/or the public — at every turn despite claiming to want what’s best for the woman he calls a “sister.”
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.