Magic Johnson spoke out publicly, but this could mean trouble for Lakers

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Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Appearing on national television to finally break his silence, ex-Lakers team president Magic Johnson told the world how he truly felt. He joined ESPN’s “First Take” on Monday, answering a series of questions from commentator Stephen A. Smith.

A little over a month ago, Johnson held an impromptu news conference of his own, where he announced his sudden resignation. And after leaving the Lakers, he has become the protagonist of the team’s drama and seemingly it hasn’t been brought to a halt as issues unceasingly escalate.

The man who was supposed to fix the Lakers departed the organization, left everybody involved in the front office in the dark and went on about his life. Johnson says he felt betrayed by Rob Pelinka and resigned because of “backstabbing and whispering” behind his back.

The man who wanted Johnson’s position dismissed the accusations of ruthless betrayal. Pelinka was flabbergasted afterwards to hear that his ex-boss had blasted him. They both face a multitude of criticism for the team’s dysfunction, although it was Pelinka who was painted as a two-faced, slithering snake. With so much dirty laundry being aired out in the public, this only exacerbates the issue and such bashing from Johnson would hardly put the drama to rest.

It was a little out of the ordinary, and not Magic-like to hear him berate an ex-colleague. It was an assertion sure to provoke criticism, but he spoke out about why he walked away, he said what he felt and didn’t care whose feelings he hurt. Most of the time, Johnson was away from the office but he obviously felt uncomfortable working with Pelinka in a toxic environment. And besides, Buss promised to give him full control of the Lakers, a promise she then couldn’t keep.

Within reason, Johnson is entitled to say whatever he feels is true, but how he went about it could have an effect on the Lakers’ ability to attract free agents this summer. The disappointing thing is that Johnson is accusing the general manager of something when he has no knowledge of whether it was true.

Johnson is adding fuel to the Lakers’ fire. Pelinka is trying very hard to defuse the situation. He was “surprised and disheartened” to hear this, and he says he wants to speak to Magic in person, so they can settle their differences. Some took issue with Johnson’s explosive statements. And while he makes himself look more credible than Pelinka, there are innumerable fans who have taken Pelinka’s side.

They have rushed to judgment, without knowing all the facts to a convoluted story. They have characterized Johnson as selfish after relinquishing his job title as top executive in the Lakers front office. Even more disenchanting is the fact that he held an important role with the Lakers, then walked away from one of the most coveted jobs.

Way back when he was a player, he helped enrich the team’s legacy. But this past season, as the bossman, he put a massive dent in the storied Laker legacy. A renowned franchise lies in ruins, and the greatest Laker is being stigmatized as ungrateful, sensitive and querulous. Being universally acknowledged as a successful businessman is how we perceive him. But in his role with the Lakers, he lost a power struggle mostly because he would have rather worked part time.

Nobody knows what was going on in the front office. But what we do know, by drawing an obvious conclusion, is that Johnson was not fully committed to the job. And weeks later after his hasty exit, Johnson had no problem throwing shade at Pelinka. In his defense, Johnson called him a whisperer and backstabber, and his fractured relationship with Pelinka prompted him to unexpectedly cede his privilege and power to the Lakers. Add in the fact that he had a hard time trusting Pelinka, who now serves in his place.

Then it came to light only recently that Johnson felt Pelinka wanted his position. Many of us thought it was abnormal for him to go public with all the problems. Johnson’s inability to turn the Lakers around is one thing. Telling the world their business is another thing, and not only does it describe the utter dysfunction of a franchise with in-house issues, but it also creates negative images of himself. This gives the Lakers a bad name as well.

If he were a real man, Johnson would sit down with Pelinka behind closed doors, in a private room to straighten out the situation between them. Pelinka is not innocent, but Johnson could have handled this in a very professional manner and should finally come face-to-face in a meeting to quash it. Pelinka might have been saying things about him to other people, but it was unnecessary for Johnson to make public his disparagement of someone who is despised by people around the association.

In the two years that Johnson spent with the Lakers, he failed spectacularly in his efforts to guide the team to the promised land—and that’s putting it kindly. Beneath the dark clouds, the Lakers are caught in the midst of a brutal storm.

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