It was only a matter of time before the real story behind Magic Johnson’s sudden resignation came to light. No story can be buried forever, but that will be especially true when it comes to these Lakers and someone like Magic who, and this is said with no shade, has not met a camera he does not like.
So, after nearly 6 weeks of speculation about what prompted Magic to step away from the Lakers, we finally got the story right from Magic’s mouth when he appeared on ESPN’s First Take and laid it all out bare for full consumption:
I have many thoughts here, but I think the simplest one is that the Lakers remain a mess.
Here they are again (via a former employee going on television), offering their carcass of a reputation up to the piranhas to feast on once more. A Monday morning hit on First Take is a guaranteed capturing of the news cycle, so brace yourself for at least a few days of fallout from Magic broadcasting this out to as wide an audience as he can. Next up are the aggregators (that means me too, I know). Then come the takes. Next up after that will be the think pieces. And then we’ll rinse and repeat as many times as necessary until the story is exhausted.
My next thought, though, is if you’re surprised by Magic doing this, especially on the morning the Lakers are set to announce their next head coach, you’re probably forgetting that this is who Magic has been when it comes to the Lakers and he’s an “outsider”. Remember, Magic was the same guy who trashed Jim Buss for years while the Lakers struggled in the wake of Dr. Buss’ passing and Kobe Bryant’s achilles injury. I can pull up the tweets and the media hits and all the quotes if you want, but google is your friend here. Magic even lobbied for Jim’s job before, you know, he was hired to consult on the status of Jim’s job and ultimately, you know, actually took Jim’s job. But I digress.
Magic has never been shy about putting the organization on blast even if it’s in the organization’s best interest for him not to do so publicly. And that, there, is the contradiction of Magic Johnson in the wake of all this.
In the video clip above, Magic basically says that there was backstabbing by Rob Pelinka, that Tim Harris was pushing for more influence on basketball decisions, that Jesse/Joey Buss were also angling for more power, and that Jeanie Buss didn’t do enough to curb any of it and stick to the plan of (Magic) having final decision making authority. None of this sounds great, of course.
Here’s the thing, though, Magic’s job as President of Basketball Operations was to manage all these things himself! That’s the job. Rob is disparaging you behind your back? Deal with it. Tim Harris is infringing on areas of the organization that are yours to manage? Deal with it. Jeanie Buss needs to be convinced of something? MANAGE UP AND DEAL WITH IT.
This, right here, is what being the POBO means in the modern NBA.
If you thought it was just going to be you getting to be a guy who had supreme command over everything without having to actually manage the people all around you (below, on equal footing, or above) you probably didn’t understand the nature of the job you were accepting. If you thought you could do this job, without 100% time commitment, you probably did not understand the job you were accepting. If you thought people would just do your bidding or wouldn’t try to come at you from the side or undermine you simply because you were the boss or Magic effing Johnson, you probably did not understand the job you were accepting.
That’s not anyone else’s fault, Magic. That’s yours, man. Know the landscape, know what’s needed, and attack that with your full vigor. And if you can’t, step away. And, to his credit, he did just that! But to go on TV six weeks after the fact and portray this as everyone else’s fault while offering poor reasoning behind some of the more controversial decisions you did execute and expect…I don’t know…a pat on the back and some sympathy?
Nah, man. Nah. That’s not how this works.
You had a job that entailed more than just basketball operations and you didn’t do it well enough. If nothing else, this TV appearance simply confirmed that it’s actually a really good thing Magic no longer has the job that he had.
Of course, “if nothing else” doesn’t apply here. No, there’s more.
Because while we can critique Magic until our faces turn (forum) blue, the situation he lays out actually is not a great working environment! And while we can say some of that falls on him, people’s actions independent of Magic do deserve scrutiny.
Rob Pelinka gossiping behind Magic’s back is bad form and toxic for a work environment, irrespective of how true the things he was saying were. Tim Harris not staying in his lane as the person who oversees business operations isn’t great. Jeanie Buss not properly discerning who should have input and who shouldn’t is a problem. There’s a reason this franchise is viewed as dysfunctional and these are the reasons. Leadership is not proving strong or competent.
People who should not have influence on decisions seem to not only have influence, but outsized influence relative to their qualifications to speak on such matters. People seem to be consistently angling for power and roles that are beyond their current reach and attempting to make inroads with the person who can put them into that position through means that are not up to a certain moral-business standard of operations. This creates competing agendas that destroy you from within. There’s no avoiding what the Lakers are going through now if you do not have leadership who sets a tone and direction for how things should be.
If nothing else is clear from Magic going on TV this Monday morning, this is. Leadership has failed. Jeanie Buss has failed. Magic Johnson has failed. Rob Pelinka has failed. There is no spinning this. I get wanting to point the finger at the person or people you dislike most on this, but the entire thing is a mess and trying to limit the exposure of who takes the hit to a single person is doing it wrong. No, blame everyone. They all did it.
I wish I had a plan for how the Lakers should move forward here. Fire person X or demote person Y; have Jeanie self reflect and offer a new direction for the franchise; some will even say to sell the team. I’m not sure any of these are actually the real answer to cure what ails this organization. What I do know, though, is Magic going on TV in the way that he did both perfectly captures his M.O. when he’s not been directly involved with the team and perfectly reflective of the environment he stepped away from.
Before today it was hard for me to imagine how the Lakers could end up looking worse than they did in the wake of how they managed the Tyronn Lue negotiations. But here we are. I guess I should stop being surprised by things.