Lakers Try To Show Unity After Johnson's Claims About Pelinka
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka responded to Magic Johnson's claims about him and the team's front office dealings by "calling the charges 'not true' and suggesting Johnson’s understanding was misguided by third parties," according to Kyle Goon of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. Pelinka spent most of Frank Vogel's introductory press conference yesterday "deflecting accusations sparked by Johnson," who earlier in the day had gone on ESPN to discuss why he stepped down as president of basketball operations last month. Pelinka said that he "enjoyed his two years working alongside Johnson, and that they had spoken since his resignation -- as recently as a few days before Johnson smeared him on national television." Pelinka called Johnson an “unbelievable person to work with." The Lakers yesterday attempted to "counter Johnson’s narrative with a show of strength: Much of the team’s front office sat in the front row at Vogel’s introductory press conference," including Joey and Jesse Buss, Dir of Player Personnel Ryan West and Dir of Basketball Research & Analysis Nick Mazzella. Senior Basketball Advisor Kurt Rambis "stood in the wings," as did LeBron James. Notably, Lakers Controlling Owner & CEO Jeanie Buss "did not appear publicly at the press conference, but she was in the building" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 5/21).
STAR-SEARCHING: After his appearance on ESPN yesterday, Johnson said of whether Pelinka is the right person for the job now that Buss has empowered him to make all the basketball decisions: "We don't know. How can we say that? Nobody knows that. I think he'll need some help surrounding him." In L.A., Broderick Turner noted Johnson was "criticized for bashing Pelinka on the same day the Lakers introduced Vogel." But Johnson said that it was a "coincidence and he believed it was necessary to make the appearance on TV." He said, "I'm never going to do anything wrong or go against the Lakers or go against Jeanie" (LATIMES.com, 5/20). ESPN’s Paul Pierce said Johnson is “just confirming what we all thought and what we all heard." In a successful organization, there "can’t be any disconnect" and there “has to be some synergy" between the front office, coaching staff and ownership (“NBA Countdown,” ESPN, 5/20). Also in L.A., Arash Markazi writes Johnson and Pelinka's relationship was "doomed from the start, largely because it was a prearranged marriage between people who had never worked with each other, and both wanted full control of the team." It is "incredible" that Jeanie Buss would "repeat the mistake with the coaching staff," as Vogel and assistant coach Jason Kidd have no prior working relationship (L.A. TIMES, 5/21). NBA TV’s Leigh Ellis noted while Johnson criticized Pelinka, he also said he was "mentoring him for that job," so it "doesn’t really make all that much sense" (“The Starters,” NBA TV, 5/20).
FOR OLD TIME'S SAKE? ESPN.com's Jackie MacMullan noted there were rumors that Buss -- whose "blueprint has been to surround herself with people her father knew" -- had reached out to Pat Riley in an "attempt to coax him back to the West Coast in some front-office capacity." However, the former longtime Lakers coach "shot down that notion." He said he has thought about returning to the Lakers "only from a sentimental standpoint" and that he was "never pursued" by the team. Riley said of the current state of the Lakers: "This kind of s--- goes on in organizations every day. The organization gets too big, there are too many people who have been around a long time, and they start voicing their opinion about things, and that's when the culture starts to crack." He said maybe Johnson's "honesty will do something" to get the Lakers thinking (ESPN.com, 5/20).
LOSING THEIR LUSTER: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes yesterday was the "most awkwardly awful day in the Lakers’ recent sordid history." The Lakers "are a wreck." The day began with Johnson appearing on ESPN confirming that he "felt betrayed" by Pelinka, and it "ended with Pelinka denying he was a backstabber and confirming ... he is the new basketball boss and answers only to Buss." It is "saddening and disheartening that [the] Lakers’ front office has fallen to this level, a billion-dollar operation being run by a small group of friends and family clawing at each other for control." This is an organization "desperately in need of a leader," but yesterday "showed they don’t have one" (L.A. TIMES, 5/21). THE RINGER's Paolo Uggetti wrote Johnson's comments "sure restarted the spinning wheel of Lakers drama." This is "beyond a reality show at this point" (THERINGER.com, 5/20). Former NBAer Chris Bosh said it seems like the more the Lakers "try to clean up, the worse it gets" (“The Starters,” NBA TV, 5/20). ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez said yesterday showed "another view of a bumbling front office that has this incestuous nature about because it’s got to be former Lakers" who are hired (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN, 5/20).
FACE OF THE FRANCHISE? The L.A. TIMES' Markazi noted Jeanie Buss "hasn’t talked publicly" since Johnson abruptly resigned last month. She has said that she "would talk when the time was right." But Buss will "need to step in front of the camera and be a bigger part of that storyline sooner rather than later" (L.A. TIMES, 5/21). ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne wrote the Lakers have been "something of a dumpster fire since Johnson stepped down." Every decision they have made "has been wholly unpopular." What is "worse" is there has been "no one from the organization willing to explain anything in the public spotlight." This "used to be an area" in which Buss "excelled." She was "always willing to take questions, even harsh ones." However, she has been "out of sight as of late, seemingly resigned to taking all the criticism coming her way" (ESPN.com, 5/20). ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said there has been an "incredibly disappointing display of the lack of leadership" within the Lakers. But "unlike any organization maybe in all of sports ... they have the opportunity to recover because they’re in Los Angeles, because of their history, because they have LeBron." Still, somebody "has got to show leadership" (“The Jump,” ESPN, 5/20).
MAGIC SHOW: SI.com's Chris Mannix wrote just as "things were looking up" for the Lakers, Johnson "returned the scene to trample all over them." Johnson "napalmed the only organization he has ever known." He was "clearly motivated to air the Lakers dirty laundry, and he let it all hang out" (SI.com, 5/20). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes Johnson, in an interview that was "supposed to clear his reputation," wound up "trashing his own and those of everyone associated with the family and franchise he professes to love." The "pettiness with which Johnson handled the situation diminished not only him," but it also "left scars on the Lakers that will take months, if not years, to heal" (USA TODAY, 5/21). NBCSPORTS.com's Kurt Helin wrote what Johnson "doesn’t understand" after discussing the Lakers problems is that "dealing with all that was EXACTLY his job." That is "what it means to be the President of Basketball Operations" (NBCSPORTS.com, 5/20).