Magic Johnson juggles a lot of balls in his life: family, a far-reaching business empire worth an estimated $700 million, charity work including HIV activism, being a spokesman for the NBA on some issues, and much more.
So much that he could never fully commit to being the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, not in the way needed to do the job well. Sources told NBC Sports last summer Magic tended to “parachute in” for a few days a month in the office, throw down a lot of edicts, then leave it for others to clean up the mess.
Magic apparently came to the realization he wasn’t doing the job well and he wasn’t happy doing it. Tuesday, in an impromptu, rambling, emotional and at times tear-filled 40-minute press conference before the Lakers final game of the season, Magic stepped down as the Lakers president of basketball operations. He told the assembled media before he even told team owner — and his good friend — Jeanie Buss.
Buss was not in the building on Tuesday, Magic said they would speak tomorrow. However, Buss Tweeted about it later.
While Magic denied this had anything to do with Lakers’ coach Luke Walton — who Johnson had been given the green light to fire and was expected to do so in the next 24 hours — he later said this.
Magic also had moments where he sounded like a politician looking to spin things. Or maybe a little delusional.
Johnson said one situation that weighed on him was the situation with Ben Simmons. The young Sixer — a 6’10” ball handler, a pass-first player who has some similarities with Magic — reached out to the Lakers’ legend about mentoring him about the game. Magic couldn’t do it because of potential tampering rules, neither the Sixers nor Lakers wanted any part of it. Johnson said that is the kind of thing he wants to do, the type of role he wants to play.
Magic may feel better, but it leaves the Lakers in chaos.
Is Luke Walton going to be fired? He and his staff reportedly expected the ax to fall in the next 24 hours. Now… who knows? If it is up to Walton backer Jeanie Buss, Walton will likely be around for a while.
Who is going to lead the Lakers into a crucial offseason and set a direction as they try to land another superstar and build a roster around LeBron James? Do the Lakers get a new president of basketball operations? Promote GM Rob Pelinka, or does he move on, too?
Jeanie Buss removed her own brother and long-time Laker loyalist Mitch Kupchak at the urging of Magic, and she trusted him to run the basketball operations “the Laker way.” It turns out that Magic didn’t know how to build an organizational culture, he seemed to think the Laker brand was a culture. Now the burden falls on Buss to find someone else to right this Lakers’ ship, which will sit out the playoffs for a franchise-record sixth straight season.