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Volume 26 No. 174
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Will Front Office Drama Hurt Lakers' Chances In Free Agency?

Pelinka will likely have to address Johnson’s claims about his credibility when meeting with free agents
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Pelinka will likely have to address Johnson’s claims about his credibility when meeting with free agents
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Pelinka will likely have to address Johnson’s claims about his credibility when meeting with free agents
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

When Magic Johnson appeared on ESPN this week and talked about Lakers GM Rob Pelinka’s "backstabbing, he might have front-stabbed the team’s chances with the very best free agents," according to Dan Woike of the L.A. TIMES. If the Lakers "want to chase" impending free agents like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard, they "need to be prepared to talk about" Johnson. Pelinka will have to "address Johnson’s claims about his credibility because players are going to want to know that their general manager will be honest with them." He must also be "prepared to have good answers" about hiring coach Frank Vogel. If Pelinka "tries to paint the situation like Vogel was the Lakers’ top choice," it "won’t help" his reputation." It will be a "challenge for the Lakers’ front office to try to paint Vogel’s hiring as a victory after publicly losing out on Monty Williams and Tyronn Lue." The team's "dysfunction since Johnson’s surprise resignation hasn’t gone unnoticed" (L.A. TIMES, 5/22). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said Pelinka will "have some recovery" to do because he has to go out and "recruit, he has got to put this back together and that seems to be where the beef was, not with Magic" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/21).

TOUGH ROAD AHEAD? THE ATHLETIC's Brian Kamenetzky noted the Lakers after Johnson stepped down "had over a month to get out ahead of their own story and not let it be told for them." Pelinka said that he is "confident none of this will hurt the Lakers" in free agency. Kamenetzky: "Maybe that’s true, but what are the Lakers doing to make their case?" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/21). ESPN's Richard Jefferson said Johnson's comments "didn't kill their chances of getting a free agent because they're still the Lakers and they still have LeBron James and a ton of assets, but he didn't make it any easier" ("Get Up," ESPN, 5/22). ESPN's Bomani Jones: "Who wants to come play for y'all right now given the way that this dynamic is set?" ("High Noon," ESPN, 5/21). The Ringer's Ryen Russillo's said, "Magic was (supposed to be) a guy to come in and talk to other superstars, and get meetings with guys who hadn't gotten in the past. It was weird that the Lakers were missing out on meetings with B-level stars" ("The Bill Simmons Podcast," THERINGER.com, 5/22).

LA LA LAND: In California, Kyle Goon notes the Lakers are not hiring a new president of basketball operations to replace Johnson, which "might be more semantics than structure." The Lakers "have had executives in between ownership and the general manager before." But the "net effect is that Pelinka makes the basketball recommendations" to Lakers Controlling Owner & CEO Jeanie Buss, which is "what Johnson did before he left." The collaboration aspect is "one that might not be as clear and simple as it first appears," particularly in the wake of Johnson’s criticism this week that there are "'too many voices' guiding the Lakers’ direction and influencing Buss’ decision-making" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 5/22). ESPN's Pablo Torre said Buss "can and she probably should be" upset at Johnson, but "this was her idea" to bring him into the front office in the first place ("High Noon," ESPN, 5/21). SI.com's Andrew Sharp wrote Johnson's resignation was "supposed to be a wake-up call" for the Lakers, and an "opportunity to start fresh." Instead, the team "changed very little from the front office regime that oversaw last year’s nightmare of a season." The question now is "how much longer the Lakers can continue on their current trajectory before the world begins to look harder" at Buss. The Lakers "appear to be an organization in which chaos pervades and accountability is limited" (SI.com, 5/21).

NOT HELPING ANYMORE: In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote Johnson "could be part of the solution" for the Lakers, but he "continues to be part of the problem." Johnson could be their "best ambassador, yet he has become their most visible critic, and this summer that could seriously affect their ability to attract free agents." The "Greatest Laker has become The Grating Laker, adding to the dysfunction that he’s attempting to reveal." Buss has "lost control of the room" and Pelinka is "not a respected leader." The Lakers are "being guided by too many voices with too few credentials." Johnson is an "incredibly credible witness," but he is "no hero here" (L.A. TIMES, 5/22).