In a shocking turn of events (not actually), Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka confirmed the rumors that the team won’t hire a president of basketball operations to replace Magic Johnson — who abruptly resigned in April — during Frank Vogel’s introductory press conference on Monday.
While it’s possible that the Lakers explored all of their options before deciding that Pelinka will oversee the team’s basketball operations in conjunction with team president and controlling owner Jeanie Buss — and her advisors Kurt and Linda Rambis — it sounds like they didn’t bother reaching out to anyone.
Earlier this week, Pat Riley told ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan that no one approached him about returning to Los Angeles after Johnson resigned. Now, LA Clippers consultant and Lakers all-timer Jerry West is saying the same thing.
During a recent interview on The Athletic’s “The TK Show,” West said that he, too, was never contacted by anyone from the Lakers. However, unlike Riley, West said he had no interest in going back to Los Angeles, even though he denied having any ill-feelings towards the organization:
“No, you know I think it’s foolish for anyone to say that, I really do. I had a great time there as a player and working with Jerry Buss was very fun. Things evolve, but I was never approached and it’s not something I could have ever revisited. It really isn’t, even though I see things over there that I think could be done, but I think every person in the league does that.”
West hasn’t always felt this way, though.
In June of 2017, a few months after the Lakers brought on Johnson as a consultant, West told radio host Dan Patrick that he had interest in returning to L.A. in a front office role, but that the opportunity never presented itself. A few weeks later, West signed on with the Clippers, who are arguably the best basketball team in Los Angeles currently thanks in no small part to West. West signed a new contract with the Clippers last week.
In spite of all of the missteps the Lakers have made over the last few months, though, West still believes they can be a competitive team in the Western Conference next season:
“I hope they do well. I really hope they do well, but they just have to get this noise to stop that’s all around them and play basketball. I would guarantee you: they’re going to have a good year this year, they have enough good players to have a really good year, and they’re going to have a good year.”
Ironically, how good the Lakers are next year is dependent (at least in part) on how West and the Clippers do in free agency.
Coming off of a relatively successful playoff appearance, the Clippers will go into the summer with roughly $57.5 million in cap space, a promising young core and two first round picks in next year’s draft. While that might not be more alluring to free agents than playing with James and the Lakers’ young core across the hall, it at least makes the conversation more interesting.
We’ll see who wins the battle of Los Angeles this summer, but if the Clippers do come out on top, the Lakers only have themselves to blame.