On April 9, 2019, just minutes before the Los Angeles Lakers took the floor for their regular season finale against the Portland Trail Blazers, Magic Johnson abruptly resigned from his position as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. He didn’t tell Jeanie Buss that he was leaving, he didn’t tell Rob Pelinka he was leaving and he didn’t tell LeBron James that he was leaving; he just left.
Johnson’s resignation was the end of one chapter for the Lakers, and the beginning of another one. However, before they could close out that chapter, Johnson had to tell his side of the story: about the betrayal and “backstabbing” he felt from Pelinka. Things got messy.
That was before, though. Now, the Lakers are back on top, in part because of the work Johnson did as their president of basketball operations.
It was under Johnson’s regime that the Lakers signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and LeBron James; moves that were possible because of the controversial trades that Johnson made. It was also under Johnson’s regime that the team drafted Kyle Kuzma, and signed Alex Caruso to a two-way contract. The Lakers wouldn’t NBA champions without Johnson’s contributions, and that’s true in spite of the damage he did during his time in the front office.
The saying “winning fixes everything” is usually reserved for locker rooms, but it’s apparently held true for Johnson and Pelinka’s relationship too. In a recent interview with Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Johnson said that he spoke to Pelinka after the Lakers clinched their championship on Sunday, and it seems they’re already looking ahead to next season:
“After I left, that stuff was in the past,” Johnson told The Times in a phone call. “But I was still a Laker and nothing changed there. And the love that Jeanie and I have for each other will always be there and always has been there. That didn’t change either. I’ve always wanted the best for the Lakers, and that’s why anything that I can do to help the Lakers back to winning an NBA championship I was going to do. Rob and I were able to move past the situation, and now we’re good. We’re friends. We were talking about repeating last night.”
It’s not surprising that Johnson and Pelinka are already talking about repeating. Johnson won back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988, and Pelinka’s former client, Kobe Bryant, won back-to-back title twice in his career, including a three-peat from 2000 to 2002. These guys think championships come in (at least) pairs.
It took a year of basketball for the Lakers to get this one, though. Once we’re done celebrating No. 17 (and figure out when the 2020-21 season is going to start), we can start thinking about No. 18.