The Los Angeles Lakers named Magic Johnson president of basketball operations this afternoon, fired longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak, and kicked team co-owner Jim Buss back upstairs by relieving him of his EVP of basketball operations title, radically transforming the team’s basketball decisionmaking apparatus.
Johnson, who played his entire Hall of Fame career with the Lakers, was a minority owner of the team from 1994 to 2010, and remained an honorary vice president even after selling his stake. Last year the team stripped Johnson of that title, fearing that his anodyne basketball tweets could amount to tampering under NBA rules.
Two weeks ago, Johnson officially returned to the team as an advisor to co-owner Jeanie Buss. Among other things, Johnson has never showed a particular aptitude for front office management, and in fact has only ever showed the opposite. He served as an analyst on NBA Countdown for five seasons but mostly said nothing of consequence, and his Perd Hapley-esque tweets are mocked league-wide. For instance, here was his grand two-step plan for saving the Lakers this summer:
Kupchak, the team’s general manager, was a teammate of Johnson’s on the Lakers in the 1980s. After retiring in 1986 he became the Lakers’ assistant GM, and was named GM in 1994, though he didn’t gain full decision-making power until Jerry West—then the team’s vice-president of basketball operations—left for Memphis in 2000. Since 2000, Kupchak’s Lakers have won five NBA titles, though this will mark the fourth straight season that they have failed to make the playoffs.
With Johnson ascendent, getting Jim Buss as far away from basketball operations as possible was inevitable, and smart. After Jerry Buss, the Lakers’ longtime owner, died in 2013, the team was turned over to two of his kids, Jim and Jeanie. In 2012, Johnson said that he didn’t trust Jim Buss, who he believe had made “critical mistakes.” In 2014, Buss told his five siblings—who all hold an equal share of the Lakers—that he would step down if the franchise wasn’t contending in 2017. It’s now 2017, and the Lakers have the third-worst record in the NBA.
So what is Magic’s plan for turning around the Lakers, after being named president of basketball operations two days before the trade deadline? Kobe, of course. Via ESPN last week:
First call I’ll make if I’m in charge: Kobe Bryant. Because Kobe understands winning. He understands, also, these players, you know? And so I would call. “What role you want, bro?” If you got a day, just give me that day, I’ll take that. Whatever time he has, I want him to come and be a part of it.