On November 18, 1981 Magic Johnson walked into the locker room, basically called an impromptu press conference, and asked to be traded. Growing ever more disgruntled with then coach Paul Westhead, Magic basically said “him or me” and shocked the basketball world just a little over a year removed from winning the NBA championship as a rookie, earning Finals MVP in the process.
Nearly 30 years later, on April 9, 2019 Magic Johnson walked into media availability before the Lakers final regular season game of a disappointing season, called an impromptu press conference, and told the assembled reporters he was resigning his position as Lakers President of Basketball Operations. Growing ever more disgruntled with his work as the organization’s chief basketball decision maker and worried about his long term relationship with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, Magic is out.
Magic Johnson, man. I guess you never lose the ability to pass when no one sees it coming.
Magic told the press that he’d not yet informed Jeanie Buss of his decision, because he “couldn’t be face-to-face to tell her”, that he was happier before he took this job, and wants to go back to being an ambassador for the Lakers and the league like he was before he took the job.
Where this leaves the Lakers is….well…in an interesting spot. I’d call it rough, but honestly, the Lakers are in a position where some of the perception of how low they are as a franchise is because of Magic and his GM Rob Pelinka. An underachieving season that saw them miss the playoffs after signing LeBron James just 9 months ago falls on everyone’s doorstep, but a poor roster construction and an early season undermining of head coach Luke Walton were major parts of a failure that Magic and the front office own all to themselves.
Combine that with a report from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that Magic and head coach Luke Walton have not spoken in weeks and we were starting to tilt in a direction where the perception of Magic as a leader was taking the type of hits that are hard to recover from. And while I’m not in Magic’s shoes, I’d imagine the last thing he wants is a tarnished image of someone who participated in the failures of the organization he clearly loves and has been associated with his entire professional life.
Where the Lakers go from here is anyone’s guess. Does this change Luke Walton’s job status? Presumably fired at some point after the end of the season just as recently as, oh, an hour ago, will Walton catch a reprieve? And what of Rob Pelinka? Will he be elevated to Magic’s position? Relieved of his duties? Pelinka’s reputation has taken its own hits this year as reports of him telling players they would not be waived or traded, only to waive and trade them have surfaced in recent days. Will Jeanie, who did not see this coming, look outside the “Lakers family” for a replacement to Magic?
It seems we have more questions than answers at this point and this was on top of the questions we already had about the direction this team would take — be it in their pursuit of free agents or overall roster construction in general.
What I will say, though, is that as dysfunctional as everything looks (and, really, is), this franchise remains well positioned to move forward. With LeBron James under contract for 3 seasons (including a player option year), a max salary cap slot this summer, a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, and several young players who still have great upside, many franchises would love to have the Lakers “problems”. How they leverage all these things, of course, remains to be seen.
What we do know, though, is that it will not be Magic who makes the decisions.