A combined $31.8 million for Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Trading Ivica Zubac for Mike Muscala. One look at the moves of Magic Johnson as team president of basketball operations for the Lakers over the past year should tell you everything you need to know about his management ability at the helm. Landing LeBron James in free agency last summer proved to be the high point for the franchise over the past 12 months and it’s easy to see why when looking at the targets the Lakers spent big money on to surround him with.
Those series of failures set the stage for Johnson’s resignation from the Lakers on Tuesday night, a bizarre episode by even NBA standards. The 40-minute impromptu press conference at the Staples Center ahead of the Lakers' regular-season finale came as a surprise to everyone. Johnson went public with his decision to leave before even telling Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.
"It's a difficult decision. I cried before I came here," Johnson said. "I am about to cry now. It's hard when you love an organization the way I love this organization. It's hard when you love a person like I love Jeanie. I don't want to disappoint her ... I want to go back to having fun. I want to go back to being who I was before taking on this job."
The entire situation was symbolic of the Lakers dysfunction for most of the year. They had turned into a soap opera with rumors swirling around trades, Luke Walton’s job security and locker room infighting that helped James miss the postseason for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Johnson and inexperienced general manager Rob Pelinka have been at the center of it all and neither seemed very well equipped to handle the grind of the NBA. Johnson reportedly spent very little time scouting and was often away from the team, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. Pelinka spent his career trying to get his players paid as an agent rather than evaluating which ones were worthy of a payday. In his farewell, Johnson didn’t exactly give Pelinka a stamp of approval.
"Do I think Rob is the right GM? That's a decision Jeanie has to make," Johnson said. "I worked well with him. I had no problem with him. Jeanie has to make all the calls. That's not the calls for me to make. This is her organization."
In leaving now, Johnson is essentially giving Buss an out. He was not going to be fired after two years on the job since he is too important of a figurehead to the team’s history to get that kind of treatment. By stepping away, albeit, in an embarrassing fashion, the Lakers will have an opportunity to reset once more ahead of the biggest offseason in years for the franchise.
Running the Lakers immediately emerges as one of the most appealing gigs on the open market for executives.