Magic Johnson explains why he left Lakers, says he was betrayed by Rob Pelinka
Pelinka calls Magic's comments 'saddening and disheartening'
During a lengthy appearance on ESPN's First Take on Monday morning, Magic Johnson explained why he stepped down from his position with the Los Angeles Lakers last month, and divulged some details regarding what went on behind closed doors that made him feel like he needed to part ways with an organization that he holds dear to his heart.
Johnson had a whole lot to say, but his comments made one thing crystal clear: he felt betrayed by Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who Johnson didn't know prior to his role with the Lakers.
"I didn't know Rob [Pelinka]," Johnson said. "... First year in it was tremendous... And then I start hearing, 'Magic, you are not working hard enough. Magic's not in the office.'
"People around the Lakers office were telling me Rob was saying things, Rob Pelinka, and I didn't like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn't in the office enough. So I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball, saying those things now were said to them, outside of basketball now, just not in the Lakers office anymore. Now it's in the media and so on... If you are going to talk betrayal, it's only with Rob."
Pelinka responded to Johnson's comments at the introductory press conference for new Lakers head coach Frank Vogel on Monday afternoon, and called the remarks of his former colleague "saddening and disheartening."
"The two years of getting to work side-by-side with Earvin are some the greatest memories I have in sports and work," Pelinka said. "He's an unbelievable person to work with, he fills the room with joy and vision. And truly it's saddening and disheartening to think he believes things are a misperception."
Despite the way things ended between the two of them, Pelinka said that he remains in contact with Johnson.
"I have talked to him several times since he decided to step away, we've had many joyful conversations," Pelinka said. "In fact, two days ago we were reliving the (draft) combine and the fourth pick, talking about the great future this franchise has, so things are surprising to hear, and disheartening. But I look forward to the opportunity to talk with him and sit down and work through them."
Johnson's issues didn't stop with Pelinka, as his lack of power within the organization was also a major factor in his decision to walk away from the Lakers. He explained that being blocked from firing head coach Luke Walton was the last straw for him.
"The straw that broke the camel's back was I wanted to fire Luke Walton," Johnson said. "I showed [Jeanie Buss] the things he did well and the things he didn't do well. I said listen, we got to get a better coach. First day, well let's think about it. Second day, OK you can fire him. Then the next day, no, we should try to work it out.
"So we went back and forth like that, and then she brought [Lakers COO] Tim Harris into the meeting, some of the guys, and Tim wanted to keep him because he was friends with him. I said, when I looked up, I only really answer to Jeanie Buss. Now I got Tim involved. It's time for me to go. I got things happening that were being said behind my back. I don't have the power I thought I had to make decisions. And I told them, when it is not fun for me, when I think I don't have the decision-making power I thought I had, I got to step aside."
Johnson thinks that part of the problem during his tenure with the team was the fact that too many people had a say when it came to the basketball decision-making process.
"[Harris] is supposed to run Lakers business but he was trying to come over to our side," Johnson said. "Have everybody who has a role with the Lakers, stay in that role. OK, Tim Harris, you're the president of business, stay over there in business. Jesse and Joey [Buss], hey, you're the general manager assistant to Rob. Joey, you run the G League team. Then do that and do it well. Once you show you can drive excellence, now maybe you can move to another department. But right now, everybody has a voice."
You can see Johnson's comments in full below, via First Take:
Johnson put all his cards on the table, and in doing so he exposed a pretty high level of dysfunction within the Lakers organization, and while Johnson may be gone, many of the issues that he touched on continue to linger. The main question now facing the organization is how they can move forward and build themselves back into a perennial Western Conference contender.
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