NBA

Lakers Buying Whatever Magic Johnson is Selling

Lakers president Jeanie Buss finally cut the cord on her brother and gave the keys to Earvin "Magic" Johnson

The day after President's Day, Lakers boss Jeanie Buss finally demonstrated her presidential authority.

For years, Buss would go into the press from time to time and make comments that hinted at the dysfunctional relationship between her and her brother, Jim, but she allowed her brother to continue in his role, though outsiders even wondered if she truly had the legal authority to remove him.

"This was a very difficult decision," Jeanie Buss told Spectrum Sportsnet on the day she decided to remove her brother from his position as the executive in charge of the basketball side of the family business. "It was probably so hard for me to make that I probably waited too long. For that I apologize to Laker fans."

On Tuesday, President Jeanie Buss fired Jim Buss from being the executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and also let general manager Mitch Kupchak go. Longtime Vice-President of Public Relations John Black also got shown the door after 27 years with the team.

Jeanie Buss finally used her power.

Kupchak had been part of the Lakers since 1981. He'd spent the final five years of his playing career in LA after Earvin "Magic" Johnson told former Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss that he wanted to play with Kupchak on a picnic. Yes, the 1980's were a different time.

Thirty-six years later, Johnson's return to the Lakers closed the loop on Kupchak's tenure with the team. Poetically, the same man who brought Kupchak into the Lakers' organization helped take him out. One trade and one secured general manager later, Johnson had an eventful first day at his "dream job" as President of Lakers Basketball Operations.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Lakers welcomed a large contingent of reporters begging to talk to the coach and to the players about the Lou Williams' trade and the shakeup in the organization. Kupchak and Jim Buss had been involved in bringing every one of those players and the entire coaching staff to the Lakers. For the bright young talents on the team, Kupchak had brought them into the NBA.

Also, it was Kupchak and Buss who reportedly refused to include Brandon Ingram in the trade for DeMarcus Cousins over All-Star weekend. Cousins eventually landed in New Orleans, and one could easily argue that the failure to get that deal done proved to be the final straw that broke the camel's back.

Upon his arrival, however, Johnson labelled the young core of players "untouchable" for trade talks and appeared set to continue the same policy of protecting the young core and keeping it intact.

"Nobody is really untouchable," Lakers coach Luke Walton smiled and said after Wednesday's practice. The coach hypothesized that if a certain two-time MVP was available via trade, players may suddenly become touchable. The coach added, "But we love our young guys."

"You should never feel like you're untouchable," Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell, who is only 20 years young, echoed his coach's thoughts with a straight face. Russell referred repeatedly to the business side of the sport and also took Williams' trade as a reminder that the NBA life can change in an instant.

"It just show how much they believe in the young core, coming out here, seeing us work every day," Ingram responded when asked about what he took away from the front office refusing to include him in a potential trade for Cousins. Whether he was fully aware of it or not, Ingram was referring to the former Kupchak and Buss front office with his comments.

"It was strange. It's different. It's weird," Walton said about not working with Kupchak anymore.

Johnson's return and Kupchak's time with the franchise, though, are not at odds with one another in the eyes of the players and coaches.

"I think it was great for the organization, of course," Ingram, who is only 19, shared his thoughts on Johnson's hiring with one breath. "Of course, (Johnson is a) legendary player, great mind, a great point guard, a winning player, so of course I thought it was a good idea."

With another breath, Ingram spoke about continuing his relationship with the man that pulled him out of the college basketball womb and brought the teenager into the Lakers' family: "(Kupchak) was always a great guy to me."

"Our owners are doing what they think is best, and I support it 100 percent," Julius Randle, who was the Lakers' 2014 lottery pick, did his best to state his allegiance to the Lakers while also sharing his gratitude for the dearly departed executive. "As far as Mitch, I can't thank him enough, how grateful I am that they had me on their radar and brought me in here to this great organization, to this great family. To him, I can't thank him enough. He did an amazing job and he was great here. I loved him here."

Asked about whether Johnson's presence at practice is a bit surreal, Randle smiled and said, "Yea, I definitely had the awe factor when he came in."

For Walton, he toasted to two titles with Kupchak and Jim Buss as a player and also got his first head coaching job under the dissolved duo. Naturally, Walton had mixed emotions.

"I am really close with Jim and Mitch and I really enjoyed working with them, and so it was interesting," Walton shared. "And I had great talks with both of them on the telephone afterwards. They were both very supportive. They both gave the message of 'Continue to work.' 'You got a job to do.' 'You're going to be great at the job.' 'Keep working with the young guys.' It was definitely a little sad. I think it's important to remember all the great things they did while they were here too."

When the topic turned to Johnson, though, Walton again spoke glowingly and enthusiastically about his new boss: "He demands respect because he's earned that. That is who he is. I'm not going to say it's what the franchise needs, but he's fun to work with. He really is. We've had great talks. He's been in here all day for the last two days. I've really enjoyed the short amount of time that we've spent bouncing ideas off each other and having him around."

At one point, a reporter asked if Johnson would even have an impact with the younger generation of NBA players that may not have seen him play or understand exactly all that he accomplished. Would Johnson have any magic with free agents?

"I think Magic's great," Walton quipped. "I think if I'm sitting in a room with Magic, from my experience, if he's selling me on something, most times I'm buying it."

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