The minute Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss sat down and had lunch Magic Johnson — before Magic was hired as an advisor to ownership — the questions started to be asked: Does this mean a shakeup is coming to the Lakers’ front office? Will Jim Buss be pushed out? Mitch Kupchak? Will Magic ultimately be the guy at the top of the food chain in Lakers’ basketball operations?
There are no definitive answers to that yet, but I wouldn’t feel very comfortable if I were Jim Buss.
Magic told the USA Today he’d like to be the guy calling the shots.
“Working to call the shots, because it only works that way,’’ Johnson told USA TODAY Sports when asked what he hopes his role with the franchise will be. “Right now I’m advising. I get that. But at the end of the day, then we all got to come together and somebody’s got to say, ‘I’m making the final call,’ all right? And who’s that going to be?
“So, we’ll see what happens.”
Magic is currently on a crash course — he’s got to learn the ins and outs of the NBA’s complex salary cap structure and Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“The main part for me is really learning the other part that I didn’t know, and that is to understand the CBA, the salary cap, where we are in terms of the salary cap and who’s a free-agent-to-be. You’ve got a lot of young players so you’ve got to learn when are their contracts coming up, if you can give them the max deal, give them an extension, all those types of things you’ve got to learn. It’s a lot of things, but I’m excited. I’ve been working on all of those things, and then meeting with the staff.”
If Magic were given power, the Lakers would need to have a more experienced cap manager/NBA front office veteran just below him in the power structure. Someone Magic could work with but who could guide him through challenging times (the Lakers don’t want the kind of mistakes Vlade Divac was making early on in Sacramento).
There are two questions for me. First, will Magic be given the hammer on the basketball operations side? Call it a power grab if you want, but he has to be handed the power by the owners. Jeanie Buss can’t just fire Jim, that’s not the way the complex trust that governs the Lakers ownership and the six Buss children works. It would take a majority of the Buss family to move him (Jim likely would resign first, but not sell his shares, he can’t the way the trust is structured) — however there are plenty of reports that the other Buss children are ready to move on from the Jim Buss/Kupchak era (that’s not totally fair to Kupchak, but that’s also another discussion). It would not surprise anyone this summer to see Jim step aside and Magic be installed as a VP and Director of Basketball Operations (or some such title). However, that is not a certainty.
Second question: Is that a good thing? While there is an “anyone is better than Jim Buss” camp among Lakers fans, any follower of Magic’s incipit Twitter account can see cause for worry — he has pitched the same living-in-the-past ideas publicly that Jim Buss seemed to believe. That the Lakers can land free agents still just because they are the Lakers. Magic has said the Lakers should have gone after Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan and others of that ilk — guys that would not even meet with Los Angeles right now. Magic doesn’t change the equation, the Lakers advantages due to brand and location have been reduced by both the CBA and the world of social media. You can get just as big a shoe deal playing in Oklahoma City now if you’re a superstar. The Lakers need to follow more of the Boston model — build a good young core with a good young coach, get up above .500 and show promise, and then free agents will take you seriously. Boston didn’t land Al Horford until it won 48 games.
Can Magic do that?
Will he get the chance?
There’s going to be a lot of drama playing out in Los Angeles this summer.