Magic Johnson abruptly resigns as Lakers’ president
Johnson, who will turn 60 in August, also has many thriving business interests along with ownership stakes in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles FC.
Johnson’s sudden decision ends another chapter in the remarkable life of the star point guard from Lansing, Michigan, who won an NCAA championship at Michigan State before claiming five NBA titles and three league MVP awards during his 12-year playing career as the leader of the Showtime Lakers.
Johnson retired in 1991 after he tested positive for HIV, but later returned briefly to the Lakers as a player and a coach. Johnson says his current health is ideal, and he insists no health concerns were part of his decision to quit the job that seemed to be his ultimate destiny.
Johnson was hired along with Pelinka when Buss dismissed her brother, Jim, and GM Mitch Kupchak just 26 months ago. The Buss children’s father, Jerry, had long envisioned Johnson in a powerful role in the Lakers’ front office, and Jeanie put Magic in charge of shaking up her storied franchise in decline.
Immediately after taking the job, Johnson stated his plan to land at least two free-agent superstars to return the Lakers to immediate title contention. That plan rankled feelings around the league and got him in trouble when he publicly acknowledged the Lakers’ interest in George, which led to an investigation that eventually stuck the Lakers with a $500,000 fine for Pelinka making improper contact with George’s agent.
Johnson made several personnel moves to clear salary cap space for his ultimate goal, notably trading guard D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn largely to rid the Lakers of Timofey Mozgov’s onerous contract in 2017.
Johnson also criticized Russell for his maturity and playing style on the way out the door, but Russell has blossomed into an All-Star leader for the playoff-bound Nets. Some of Johnson’s other moves have worked out much better, including the Lakers’ drafting of Lonzo Ball, the acquisition of Kyle Kuzma and the bargain signing of center JaVale McGee.
And though James was in charge of his decision to join the Lakers last summer, LeBron credited Magic with closing the deal in a meeting before he agreed to a four-year contract.
But after James strained his groin at Christmas and subsequently sat out for the longest injury absence of his 16-year NBA career, the Lakers were unable to compile enough midseason wins to stay in playoff contention. The Lakers also slumped before the trade deadline when Johnson aggressively pursued disgruntled New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis in a trade that would have required the Lakers to give up much of their talented young core.
James was shut down for the season late last month, and he watched the Lakers’ season finale in street clothes on the bench. He wasn’t available to reporters after the game.
The Lakers have missed the postseason in each of their three springs since Johnson and Pelinka took over, and Magic didn’t stick around long enough to see whether his plan would yield another free-agent star this summer — when the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant should be in play — or next, when Davis should be available.
The Lakers compiled their best record in six years this season, but were eliminated from playoff contention by Russell’s Nets back on March 22. Los Angeles had never missed the playoffs in more than two consecutive seasons before this six-year drought.
Johnson remained publicly supportive of Walton, but Magic also was widely known to agree with Walton’s detractors who aren’t impressed by his offensive game planning and rotations. Johnson’s decision to step down likely means the Lakers won’t make a decision on Walton’s future until a new front office is in place.
Johnson and Pelinka, Kobe Bryant’s former agent, didn’t know each other before they were paired by Buss, but Johnson said he worked well with Pelinka. Johnson also pointedly refused to say whether Pelinka should remain as the Lakers’ general manager, saying the decision rested solely with Buss, whom he repeatedly called “my sister.”
“She doesn’t know I’m standing here,” Johnson said. “Because I knew I would be crying like a baby in front of her.”