Monday featured a live appearance on ESPN and allegations of backstabbing from Magic Johnson towards Rob Pelinka, who then denied anything of the sort and called the mere accusations hurtful. All this went on while the Los Angeles Lakers were trying to introduce Frank Vogel as their head coach, but he was so far down the list of priorities that even he noticed and tried to inject himself back into the press conference.
Lost amid all the fireworks, though, was a nugget from Pelinka not about stabbing, mistrust or anything nearly so inflammatory, but about the inner workings of the Lakers. Basically, according to Pelinka, he takes in all the opinions of everyone from Kurt and Linda Rambis, Jesse and Joey Buss, Tim Harris, Phil Jackson when he swings by, now Frank Vogel and his coaching staff, hopefully the analytics department, the milkman, his mechanic and God knows who else, and condenses that feedback into a recommendation for Jeanie Buss — who then makes the final decision.
You can kind of see how the important detail went under the radar here given everything else going on, but it’s fairly easily the biggest development of the day.
Jeanie Buss is now apparently the final decision maker of basketball operations for the Lakers, and the days of her claiming any kind of plausible deniability for any missteps there are over.
For the vast majority of her time with the Lakers, Buss has actively separated herself from any such accountability. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were so isolated that she claimed that as part of the reason for their dismissal. When Johnson was hired, she said he had final say and trusted him unconditionally — though he denied that he actually had such power yesterday.
Those shields are no longer there to deflect blame should things not end well, and it’s fair to wonder if she is okay with Pelinka offering up that bit of information as clearly as he did.
At this point, the arrangement detailed above can really only end two ways: In miraculous success or disastrous failure. In most cases, I’m all for finding the middle ground, but because Buss passed on hiring an established executive who would be more likely than the group Jeanie has empowered to have made the best of the Lakers’ (still very desirable) situation, there is no room for an “okay” offseason.
This is the fork in the road where the Lakers find out what Jeanie is actually made of. Either the people she stuck herself with make things work and put a legitimate contender around LeBron James (which isn’t off to a great start thanks to the debacle that was their negotiations with Tyronn Lue), or they fall on their face.
Should the latter scenario play out, an already hugely frustrated Lakers fan base will have nowhere else to place their blame than Jeanie, who already has dealt with this criticism rather poorly — as evidenced by her not even making an appearance while Vogel spoke of organizational togetherness at his intro presser.
In typically candid fashion, Johnson explicitly stated his desire to buy the Lakers should things not work out with the Buss family. With Jeanie squarely in the crosshairs by way of her own hirings, such a situation might not be far off.
On today’s Locked on Lakers, Harrison and I discuss all that, Magic’s crazy interview, the awkward press conference that followed (a press conference that in all honesty went about as well for the Lakers as it could have), Jeanie Buss’ shrinking circle of people she trusts and more — including some Game of Thrones talk at the very end.
You can listen to the entire episode below, and make sure to subscribe on iTunes, where you can also leave questions in the form of a five-star review to guarantee your topic makes the show.