Lakers advisor Magic Johnson directly lobbied to be the face of the team’s front office and to be in charge of basketball operations, as his national media tour continued with a day of appearances on ESPN, with which he is still contracted for appearances.
Johnson was asked Tuesday if he wants to be the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, and if he would then have the proper time to dedicate to that job.
“Yes, I do want it,” Johnson said. “If I took it on, I would definitely give 150%. Because I have other people to run my businesses.”
Johnson spoke during the day, before the Lakers lost to the Sacramento Kings, 97-96, at Staples Center.
Johnson has declined interview requests from local media, but he has done more than one interview nationally in which he said he wants the final say on the Lakers’ basketball decisions. He has also said he wants to work alongside Jim Buss, and has sometimes said both during the same interview.
Nevertheless, the Lakers maintain that Johnson’s role was clearly defined in their initial press release – he is an advisor to Jeanie Buss and any other department that seeks his consultation.
The Lakers do not have a president of basketball operations. Jeanie Buss is the team president, governor and a co-owner, since her father, Jerry Buss, died in 2013. She and her brother Jim are two of six siblings who each own 11% of the team. Jim Buss is the team’s top basketball executive as executive vice president of basketball operations.
Jeanie Buss hired Johnson at a particularly pivotal time in her leadership. Her brother told The Times in 2014 that he planned to step down if the Lakers were not in contention for a Western Conference championship within three or four years.
When he said that, the Lakers were finishing a 27-55 season. They went 21-61 the next year and a franchise-low 17-65 last season.
As governor, Jeanie Buss has the power to remove him from his current role and has said in the past she will uphold her brother’s timeline. Earlier this season, she declined to reiterate that perspective.
“I think that in my job, what my job is to make sure that I ensure the success of the franchise going forward,” she said in October. “We have to, as we define success, there’s no reason to speculate on what will happen this season. We have to see what happens and evaluate at the end of the season.”
The Lakers started the season a surprising 10-10 but have struggled since. After Tuesday’s loss to the Kings, they are 19-38.
Hiring Johnson seemed to signal trouble for Jim Buss.
Johnson has been openly critical of Buss in the past on Twitter and in several interviews. The pair have not yet met to discuss their relationship, but Johnson said during an ESPN show that that would happen next week in a meeting that would also include Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
Kupchak, who is typically available to reporters before home games, declined to speak about Johnson’s advisory role.
“From here on out it has to be one message,” Johnson said on “First Take.” “One team, one voice. If it doesn’t come to that, the losing continues. I can’t step in between Jim and Jeanie. That’s their thing. Jeanie’s gotta handle that.”
Stephen A. Smith, a host of the show, asked Johnson if he planned to make clear to Jeanie and Jim Buss that he wants to be the one voice of the organization.
“I will put that on the table, yes,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what comes after that.”
Johnson added that if confusion remained about the Lakers’ power structure for much longer, he would leave the organization again.
His pitch for being the voice of the Lakers’ front office included a declaration that his first call would be to Kobe Bryant to get him involved in the organization again. He also said that though the Lakers have struggled to attract free agents in the past, his presence would change that.
“If Magic Johnson is in that seat, guys are gonna want to come play,” Johnson said. “Because I know business. I know how to win.”
As the plot thickened 2,500 miles away, Lakers Coach Luke Walton endured another set of questions about Johnson’s latest declarations both during shoot-around and before the Lakers played the Kings.
What did Walton think about Johnson’s wanting to involve Bryant?
Walton said he’s spoken to Bryant for advice since becoming the Lakers coach, but hasn’t thought much about the former player’s involvement beyond that.
“I’m focused on coaching these guys and where we’re at, and then when the time comes, Magic and I will sit down and talk,” Walton said. “People send me articles, but most of the time and effort is focused here. When someone sends me something, I’ll look at it.”
Coaching is one department in which Johnson has repeatedly said he would not meddle. He tried coaching once, and didn’t like it.
Very little else seems certain about his new role.