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Magic Johnson responds: ‘I never abused an employee, and I never will’

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: Magic Johnson reacts as he speaks to the press resigning as Los Angeles Lakers President of Basketball Operations before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on April 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

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It’s weird, but it’s real:

Magic Johnson vs. The Lakers is a thing.

A well-researched story by ESPN’s Baxter Holmes on Tuesday detailed what has gone wrong internally with the Lakers since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over, from Pelinka making up stories to how Magic and Pelinka ignored the advice of their scouts and basketball operations staff both at the draft and building the roster.

However, the most damning parts were about how Magic Johnson ran things through fear and intimidation, which drove some employees to therapy and medication, while it drove others away.

Magic, as expected, denied all of it in an interview on ESPN.

“Do you think Jeanie Buss would allow me to abuse employees? It never happened... a lot of Lakers employees didn’t like that I held them accountable.”

I have no doubt Magic believes everything he said in that interview down to the bottom of his soul. He does not perceive himself as having done much wrong. He was never officially reprimanded, although people in positions of power in a company are far less likely to have that happen (people under them are concerned for their jobs so don’t report things that could lead to retribution).

That’s not how others around the team perceived it.

Magic’s management style had been a topic around the Lakers for more than a year before his abrupt resignation (some sources speculated at the time he stepped down to avoid having to deal out from the fallout of this story, which was known to be in the pipeline and could have included more examples of Magic mistreatment of employees). What was in the ESPN piece is detailed but also representative of what I have heard. Magic was not around the office all the time — owner Jeanie Buss should never have let Magic take the job on a part-time basis — and when he was around he throwing down edicts, acting entitled, and leaving again. It was described to me as “seagull management.”

That this continues to play out so publicly, with Rob Pelinka coming off poorly, is not good for the Lakers heading into free agency. The elite players they want to land and pair with LeBron James have options, and when they decide between those choices the kind of organization they would go to will be a factor.

If the Lakers are going to have a strong summer, it will be because LeBron did an amazing job as a recruiter.