Magic Johnson just explained he didn’t understand his Lakers job
The Lakers spring of dysfunction continues, and every time you don’t think things could get much worse…
This time Magic Johnson went on ESPN’s First Take and went Daenerys on the dragon on the Lakers, saying what he thought made him look good, or at least what made him seem the victim. If you think it was an accident Magic did that on the day the Lakers were hosting a press conference to introduce Frank Vogel as their new coach, well, I know a Nigerian prince who just needs a few of your dollars.
True or not, Magic genuinely believes everything he said on that show — that GM Rob Pelinka stabbed him in the back by questioning Magic’s work ethic and commitment to the job. That Jesse Buss and Joey Buss are trying to grab more power (maybe they should have more power). That Tim Harris has been encroaching from the business side to the basketball side. That his good friend Jeanie Buss was not keeping all those people in their lanes.
While this is Magic’s word, those are all issues (or, to my eyes, symptoms of the Lakers’ dysfunction).
What Magic doesn’t understand: Dealing with all that was EXACTLY his job.
This is what it means to be the President of Basketball Operations (POBO) of an NBA team. Yes, you get to make draft picks, hire/fire coaches, and have the hammer on trades, but that’s just a part of the gig. You manage the entire basketball side of the business. Manage being the key word here. This is a job more about organization and setting a culture than it is basketball decisions.
If Pelinka is calling you out, get in a room with him and Jeanie Buss and deal with it.
Or, you know, actually show up to the office more. Magic said he told Jeanie Buss he would be “in and out” because he wasn’t giving up is other businesses, and she okayed it. That showed a lack of understanding on both their parts as to what this job actually entails. Magic was not a consultant who got to parachute in for a few days once or twice a month and make decisions. He was the POBO — this is the job for a grinder. It’s long hours of mostly of thankless work. It’s culture setting. It’s scouting mid-major college games to know who to draft in the second round. It’s talking to everyone from other teams to have a real understanding of the value of your players in the market, and the value of other players you may want. It’s understanding the chemistry makeup of your own team enough to know that if things go public with your efforts to land Anthony Davis midseason — and they will go public, one way or another — it could devastate your team. It’s much more than that, too.
If the younger Buss brothers were angling for more power, it’s Magic’s job to keep them in line. If CEO Tim Harris is getting out of his lane, put him back in it. If it takes help from Jeanie Buss to do those things, then you better be able to manage up and get her to handle it. For a POBO, managing the owner is part of the job (and a harder job in some markets than others).
It’s understandable why Magic wanted out of this Lakers’ job, it was not a good fit for him from the start. He enjoyed his celebrity too much, he wasn’t going to put in the kind of hours needed to do the job properly (there are certainly other GMs/POBOs around the league who do this as well but don’t get called out for it this way, welcome to the Lakers). Him stepping aside was the right move.
But what we saw on ESPN Monday was a quality encapsulation of the Lakers dysfunction right now — a lot of people stepping out of their lanes and nobody shaping a culture.
I could write (or say in on a podcast/in a radio interview) for what feels like the 487th time that what the Lakers need to do is hire a go outside Jeanie Buss’ tight circle of friends, outside her comfort zone, outside the “Lakers way,” and go get a very good POBO with experience from somewhere else — this is where being the Lakers is an advantage, go poach someone, this is a coveted job — and then give that person all the power. Stay out of the way. Let this person shape the culture. I could write that, but the Lakers will not be replacing Magic. So what you see is what you get.
And all of this might not matter — the Lakers may back their way into a good summer.
LeBron James (who showed up at Frank Vogel’s press conference) may help them recruit a quality free agent, or maybe the Anthony Davis trade talks turn their way after all. One way or another, expect the Lakers to get someone (whether that someone is good enough is another question for another day). Maybe this time the Lakers will put shooters and a good fitting roster around LeBron and this other star. Despite the dysfunction, this could all work out.
That doesn’t mean the Lakers are doing things the right way as an organization, how they operate will hurt them in the long run. It’s just in the short run it may work out.
And the Lakers will take that as a sign they are doing things right. Despite the fact Monday showed they clearly are not. Even if it came from the fact Magic didn’t really get what he was hired to do.