The question has been for weeks not if but when. Ever since Magic Johnson was brought on as a “consultant to ownership” for Jeanie Buss and the Lakers the writing was on the wall, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were going to be out. Magic’s heavy-handed public campaign to take over Jim’s spot added to the obviousness of the situation.
Nobody expected to be this fast — and certainly not two days before the trade deadline.
Why now? Lakers owner and team governor Jeanie Buss and Magic — the new head of Lakers’ basketball operations — were on the Lakers’ cable network Spectrum Sportsnet in Los Angeles and answered those questions.
“It’s something I thought about for a long time, and once the decision became clear in my mind there was really no reason to wait, Buss said…
“In today’s NBA there is no offseason, you’re constantly preparing for the draft, for the season, for Summer League, so there was no time like the present.”
This was very different from most teams firing a GM and basketball president — Jim Buss is Jeanie’s brother (and will remain part owner), Mitch Kupchak has been a loyal Laker front office soldier for decades. For Jeanie Buss, this was emotional and was not just business.
“This was a very difficult decision,” Buss said. “It was probably so hard for me to make that I probably waited too long. And for that, I apologize to Lakers fans. But now with clarity and direction, and talking to with Ervin, really knowing a change was needed, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Why did she wait so long, through what she called an “erosion” of what the Lakers should be?
“I wanted for the current (she meant former) front office to show us what Laker basketball was going to be. It just wasn’t going in a direction that was satisfactory for what this organization stands for,” Buss said.
Magic added perspective.
“It really wasn’t about the last couple weeks, it’s been about years,” Magic said.
However, Johnson did say in a later Los Angeles radio interview that he was kept out of the loop on the Lakers’ pursuit of DeMarcus Cousins All-Star weekend. He would not say if that impacted the timing, and he dodged the question about whether he would have included Brandon Ingram in the trade.
Johnson said he has talked to numerous other general managers already, both getting well wishes and talking trades — Los Angeles remains expected to move Lou Williams before the trade deadline, according to sources around the league.
“After we leave (the studio where this interview was taking place) we’re going to go back to the war room with coach Walton, Ryan West (an assistant GM), Jessie and Joey (Buss children working in the front office), we’re all going to sit in a room and evaluate trade possibilities,” Magic said.
Johnson continually praised both Luke Walton and the young core of the team — all of which were put in place by the former front office. He said he wanted to build with this core.
“We have the right coach with Luke Walton and a lot of great young players, that we can build and make sure we develop, and help them turn into the stars we think they can become,” Magic said.
“This isn’t about going back to Showtime, we’re not turning back the clock,” Buss said. “The Lakers have figured out how to win in every era, and certainly the game has evolved, and the rules have changed. We, in our discussions, were looking at evolving with the game and what the modern NBA is about.”
Magic said he wants a GM who can work with him and who also knows the CBA and has relationships with teams, “someone smarter than me.” He also talked about everyone in the organization working together in the front office, in a collaborative way.
“That’s how I built my (business) organization, that’s how I want to build this one,” Johnson said.
As expected, both Johnson and Buss said this was about winning and getting the organization going back in the right direction.
“When we sat down for dinner, and she asked me to come back, I think the timing was right,” Johnson said. “It was right for me to put my businesses aside and focus on Laker business, try to build an organization fans can be proud of, both on the court and in the offices.”