In a stunning turn of events, Magic Johnson will no longer be calling the shots in Los Angeles.
Johnson stepped down as president of basketball operations Thursday before the Lakers’ final game of the season. On a night when Dwyane Wade played his final game and Dirk Nowitzki played his final home game, Johnson’s stunning announcement stole the show.
He told reporters he “felt handcuffed” and “wanted to be able to congratulate players on accomplishments,” like Russell Westbrook’s 20-20-20 game. Because of tampering regulations and LA’s consistent flirtation with other teams’ stars, Johnson would be unable to do that type of stuff publicly. He said he also wanted to “be able to mentor” players like Ben Simmons, who was also the subject of a potential tampering incident involving the Lakers.
What’s even more stunning is Johnson’s sudden announcement. He said he didn’t tell owner Jeanie Buss or Rob Pelinka of his decision and said he “couldn’t tell Jeanie face-to-face” because of his relationship with her. Johnson said he would like to stay involved as a consultant.
This is an interesting development for the Lakers’ coaching staff, which has reportedly expected to be fired for months. Now, Head Coach Luke Walton might get one more opportunity to take LeBron James and the Lakers to the playoffs under a new president of basketball operations. Pelinka’s future is also uncertain since he was handpicked by Buss and Johnson to serve as GM.
The Lakers have gone through a disastrous season, missing the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season while dealing with a slew of injuries to their top players. James missed 17 games with a groin injury he suffered Christmas Day and Lonzo Ball was shut down shortly after James returned to action. Brandon Ingram was shut down after tests revealed blood clots in his arms and Josh Hart had nagging knee issues for the last two months.
It’s unsure who the frontrunner will be to succeed Magic, but the Lakers will have their pick of qualified candidates. Although the team missed the postseason, Los Angeles still has one of the best players in the league in James. The Lakers also have a talented young core, a lottery pick and plenty of cap space to make a big signing this summer. Johnson has left his successor in a good spot, even if the 2018-19 season won’t show it.
One possibility is bringing in David Griffin, who built a roster that made four Finals appearances in James’ second stint with the Cavaliers. Griffin knows how to build a strong roster around James, even if the superstar is aging and coming off the most serious injury of his career.
Johnson clearly did not enjoy being put in the role, even if he flashed his smile and made big claims throughout his tenure. He leaves big shoes to fill with a roster and team in flux. The Lakers will be undergoing some serious transition this offseason and Johnson’s resignation adds yet another layer to the issues the organization must solve.