Los Angeles Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss met with Hall of Famer and former Lakers point guard Magic Johnson on Tuesday night, sources with knowledge of the meeting told ESPN.
The exact nature of the meeting was not immediately clear, but sources said Buss has been soliciting opinions on the direction the franchise should take moving forward, after three straight losing seasons and possibly a fourth, with the Lakers already having lost 31 games this season.
The above is from a piece from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne back in mid January. As Shelburne noted (and I have heard similar things), Jeanie Buss has been talking to folks about the direction of the Lakers and Magic, who is “like a brother” to her, is a natural sounding board for such discussions.
Well, it turns out, that discussion may have been more than just a friendly conversation and more like a precursor to what will now be a true working relationship. Because today it was announced that the Lakers have hired Magic to an advisory position. From the team’s press release:
The Los Angeles Lakers today announced that Earvin “Magic” Johnson will return to the Lakers to assist Jeanie Buss in all areas of basketball and business as an advisor…
…Johnson’s duties will include, but not be limited to, advising ownership on all business and basketball matters, collaborating with coaches, evaluating and mentoring players, assessing future franchise needs, and helping ownership to determine the best path for growth and success. Johnson will spend time at Lakers offices in El Segundo and will report directly to Jeanie Buss.
That sound you hear is Jim Buss’ job security taking nose dive.
Magic has a long history of needling Jim, the team’s current Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. As recently as December 2015, Magic went on record to the LA Times saying Jim needed to take a step back from basketball decision making and focus on strictly being an “owner”:
“I’m going to say it again: I love Jim Buss. He should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner,” Johnson said. “Let’s go back with facts, so I can back this up with facts: 27 wins a couple years ago, 21 wins last year. Three summers now, we haven’t signed anybody. I am backing this up with facts. We haven’t signed any superstar. We’ve had cap space. We had cap space last summer. We’re going to have more this summer.”
More from the same article:
“You’ve got to get somebody to help [Buss] out,” said Johnson, an unpaid Lakers vice president. “Just play your role. There’s nothing wrong with being a great owner.
“Just like me — I didn’t try to get involved in this [hiring] process, because I don’t know anything about the manager [Roberts]. That’s not what I know, so I stay out of the way. I want to sit down there and cheer for my Dodgers. I’m happy with that. That is what I want him to do. Just let somebody else help him to achieve his goal, which is to get the Lakers back to being great again.”
To be fair, Magic was complimentary of Buss (and Mitch Kupchak) for the hiring of Luke Walton. So, it’s not like he’s only gone negative towards Jim.
Outstanding hire by Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to name Luke Walton as the next @Lakers coach!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 30, 2016
But those above quotes given to the Times are only 13 months old. And, since that time, the Lakers again did not “sign a star” in free agency and, arguably, may have had negative impact by spending excessively on contracts for Timo Mozgov and Luol Deng this past summer. When you combine this with the Lakers again in the hunt to keep their top 3 protected draft pick this summer by posting one of the league’s poorer records, I wouldn’t imagine Magic’s opinion of Buss has changed much since he made him a little over a year ago.
Also, I think Magic’s comments are worth unpacking a bit more. Magic directly compares his own lack of experience in baseball operations (referencing the hiring of manager Dave Roberts) — “That’s not what I know, so I stay out of the way.” — to Jim Buss, strongly implying that Buss too may not “know anything” even though he is (and has been) near or at the top of the basketball decision making tree for several years. I don’t want to ascribe extra meaning to Magic’s words, but I don’t think those comments paint Jim in a flattering light at all.
Now, combine all of the above with Jim Buss’ self-imposed deadline, Jeanie being on record multiple times that she will hold Jim to that timeline, and the Lakers almost a lock to not reach the markers Jim laid out for either this season nor the next season (2nd round/conference finals) and the writing on the wall is pretty clear from my vantage point. Magic may not end up being the “successor” to Jim and, honestly, I don’t think that happens at all. But if I were Jim, I wouldn’t only feel uncomfortable about an “advisor” being hired, I’d specifically be concerned about it being Magic — a person who has been a very public critic of my work over the last several years.
We will see how this all plays out. And maybe I’m putting too much Magic’s return to the organization. But I don’t think it takes a super sleuth to see the direction this could go.