We’ve said it before, but the Lakers are a mess. Some of this is their own doing. More than some, actually.
When you empower people who have poor reputations around the league, allow the information vacuum to be filled by people who do not have final decision making authority, or generally make suspect decisions based on glory long passed rather than with forward-thinking vision and then watch those decisions blow up on you, the scorn you receive is well earned.
This is the bed the Lakers — and by the Lakers, I mean Jeanie Buss — has made and now they must lie in it. That’s how this works.
However, even though mistakes made have real costs how those mistakes evolve and become their own story is not always the fault of where they originate. Enter Magic Johnson.
Hiring Magic in the first place was the Lakers mistake. How Magic proceeded to exit his job this past April and shape the narrative of that exit this past Monday are not the Lakers fault. Magic doing what Magic is want to do cannot be pinned on anyone else but Magic. When he goes in front of a bank of cameras before the last game of the season to resign suddenly without telling his boss first, that’s him. When he goes on TV to detail his side of the story while performing Hulk-smashes on former colleagues, that’s him. It’s not Jeanie or Rob Pelinka or Tim Harris or Jesse/Joey Buss doing that. Even if they inspired it, they’re not the ones making those decisions.
So the Lakers, as they did when Jim Buss was overseeing the prolonged downturn of the organization through failed free agent pitches and bloated contracts to veteran role players, have a Magic Johnson problem. That problem is not going to disappear anytime soon. Magic, full of charisma and charm and legacy and elevated reputation is not going away anytime soon. He’s an ambassador to the NBA and will continue to be put in front of cameras to speak on the NBA. And when he does, the Lakers will come up. And when they do, he’ll continue to tell his story.
We can be upset about this as much as we want. We can poke holes in some of the quotes or point to his record of decision making related to his job. It just isn’t likely to matter much. After all, he’s Magic Johnson. I’m a guy with a blog and a twitter feed. You can @ him in my mentions all you want, it’s not going to impact any of this, honestly.
This is also true for the Lakers. Getting into a public beef with him isn’t going to make a difference. Not to mention, as I’m fond of saying, if you roll around in the mud you’re going to get dirty. The Lakers, at this point, don’t have the luxury of going this route. For all intents and purposes, they’re already dirty. Scroll up and read the first paragraph again to understand why. They’ve made too many mistakes and don’t have credibility to push back meaningfully and even if they did, it would probably just impact the little credibility they have negatively.
The Lakers — and, again, I mean Jeanie Buss here — are stuck between a rock and a hard place here and there’s not an easy way to extract themselves. Ramona Shelburne, I think captured things well on twitter:
Quite the conundrum. There’s no easy way out, here. And, on some levels, I’m sympathetic. After all, I want the team to do well — even if they continue to let me down in their determinations of how to actually accomplish that.
On a positive side, I thought Frank Vogel did well in his introductory press conference and the media scrum which followed it. He came off as reasonable, seasoned, and like a full fledged grown up who knows how things work. I also think LeBron, though not on the record with comments (beyond his episode of The Shop where he spoke about Magic resigning), just being present at the introduction was a show of good faith. These are small things, but even the small things matter. You don’t get out of this deep a hole all at once.
If I was making recommendations on what to do next, it would probably be for Jeanie Buss to sit down with a reporter she has a good relationship with and then have her explain the vision for the team while offering accountability for her own mistakes and essentially no-commenting questions about Magic’s on-record statements. Make claim to the high ground while serving as a bit of a shield for the rest of the org so they can proceed with doing the necessary work to, as Shelburne notes, change minds via winning basketball games again. Take the full brunt of the hit as the leader and try to keep it moving.
I’m not sure any of this would actually work, of course. And since the benefit of the doubt no longer lies with the remaining decision makers, it’s not like I’m of the belief they’ll actually be able to execute a plan to accomplish this goal anyway.
But not only do they have to try, they have to do more than they currently are. Staying silent won’t help. Getting into a public feud with one of the most beloved figures in the history of the league who has allies everywhere won’t help.
Godspeed Lakers, you may have done it to yourselves but now Magic’s just piling on.