Magic Johnson’s appearance on ESPN’s First Take was a truly shocking one indeed. For all of the lip service Johnson has paid to loving the Lakers, his actions lately have not supported this assertion.
It started with his unexpected resignation as Lakers President of Basketball Operations (PBO) just prior to the last regular season game. What followed were weeks of rumors and speculation regarding the reasons for his stepping down as well as murmurs of dysfunctional decision-making practices. However, rumors and speculation of the front office dysfunction were given instant credibility once Johnson appeared on First Take and single-handedly upstaged Frank Vogel’s introductory press conference just a few hours later.
Here are the top 5 Laker dysfunctions confirmed by Magic Johnson on First Take:
5. Rob Pelinka Betrayed Magic
Ever since Johnson’s resignation, reports began surfacing that Rob Pelinka would openly comment about Magic not being present at the Lakers’ facility. Thus calling into question Johnson’s work ethic. During his appearance on First Take, Johnson stated:
“Then I started hearing, ‘Magic, you’re not working hard enough. Magic’s not in the office.’ So people around the Lakers office was telling me Rob (Pelinka) was saying things, and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back that I wasn’t in the office enough.”
“if you’re going to talk betrayal, that’s only with Rob (Pelinka).”Magic Johnson (20/05/19, First Take)
4. Pelinka Is Not Trusted
Shortly after Johnson stepped down as PBO, there was talk of the Lakers possibly opening up a search to fill the vacancy. Reports came in suggesting that Rob Pelinka was not a person people around the league trusted or wanted to work with. Such reports were merely unconfirmed rumors until Johnson confirmed having been warned of Pelinka. Specifically, Johnson stated on First Take that “(There were) guys calling me saying ‘you better watch out for him”.
3. Phil Jackson, Linda Rambis and Kurt Rambis Are Indeed an Important Part of Laker Decision-Making
As the Lakers coaching search continued to proceed, stories started circulating regarding the rising power of Kurt Rambis and Jeannie’s confidante, Linda Rambis, in Laker decision-making. There were also reports of Phil Jackson having a sway with Jeanie in the process. Such reports were confirmed at least according to Johnson, for when he was asked who the “main voice” in Laker decision-making was, he stated:
“Jeanie will always make the final decision, but she huddles up with Linda Rambis, and probably now, …I think Phil Jackson advises her a little bit, and now Kurt Rambis is (a part of the process).”Magic Johnson (20/05/19, First Take)
2. There Are Too Many Influential Voices in the Front Office
During the Lakers coaching search, a smattering of names began being mentioned as those being a part of the process and even the coaching interviews. Such names ranged from Tim Harris (Lakers Chief Operating Officer), Kurt and Linda Rambis, Joey and Jesse Buss, and Phil Jackson. This left many to wonder just who was actually calling the shots in Lakerland. On First Take, Johnson revealed that this chaotic mix of voices was a problem even before he stepped down as Lakers PBO:
“I didn’t like that Tim Harris was too involved in the Basketball. He’s supposed to run the Lakers business, but he was trying to come over to our side. Jeanie’s (has got to} stop that, right? You (have got to) stop people from having those voices… (There are) too many people at the table.”Magic Johnson (20/05/19, First Take)
Johnson then revealed that Tim Harris was involved in meetings he was having with Jeanie regarding whether to fire Luke Walton, and that Harris’ friendship with Walton was an impediment in the process.
Regarding Joey and Jesse Buss, Johnson said:
“Then I had to monitor the brothers, because Joey and Jesse (Buss) wanted more power…. Because they felt they should have been put in powerful positions, whether that’s General Manager or the President.”Magic Johnson (20/05/19, First Take)
Regarding overall Laker decision-making, Johnson summed up the problems and what should be done about them, as follows:
“Everybody gets to share their opinion, and it’s so much information coming at (Jeanie), then when I say ‘we have to do this,’ she can’t make a decision because they said, ‘no, don’t go the way Magic goes. You should go left instead of going right…’ So her love for those people and respect for those people often caused us to not make the right choice or there’s no decision….”
“Jeanie’s (has to) empower somebody whoever that is, is that Rob? Is that Kurt (Rambis)…? And you (have to) let them make decisions… She can’t be emotionally tied to the guys.”Magic Johnson (20/05/19, First Take)
1. Jeanie Buss Has Not yet Learned How to Be an Effective Owner
Johnson stated that the final decision maker for the Lakers is Jeanie Buss. From all of the things Magic stated on First Take, it seems clear that she has not followed good process and has not effectively been able to delegate responsibility within the Lakers organization. For starters, Johnson stated that Jeanie knew he wouldn’t often be present at Laker facilities due to his many business interests. Yet she still decided to hire him for the Lakers’ most important front office position:
“I make more money (with my businesses) than becoming President of the Lakers, so you know that I’m going to be in and out. Is that OK with you? (Jeanie) said ‘yes.’”Magic Johnson (20/05/19, First Take)
Additionally, according to Johnson, Jeanie has not empowered any particular person to make basketball decisions, Jeanie is apparently “emotionally tied” to too many people, and she is allowing non-basketball people (e.g. Tim Harris and Linda Rambis) to have a significant sway with basketball decisions. As owner, Jeanie has the final say on all of these matters, so fault for the present condition of the Lakers can only fall at her feet.
The story has not yet been written on whether Jeanie will ever be able to effectively lead the Lakers back to the promised land. Magic’s explosive First Take interview, however, did not do much to give fans hope in the franchise’s direction going forward as it gave voice and credibility to reports of dysfunction that go all the way to the top.
By Frank Gaulden (@FrankGaulden)