If the end of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has left a hole in your life that can only be filled by backstabbing and petty intrigue, don’t despair.
You could always become a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers.
On ESPN’s “First Take” Monday morning, Magic Johnson said he’d been the victim of a betrayal as general manager Rob Pelinka set out to ruin the career of the Lakers’ former president of basketball operations.
According to Johnson, Pelinka spread scurrilous rumors around the Lakers’ brain trust that the Hall of Famer was not working hard or diligently applying himself to his duties, and Johnson wasted no words given a media platform to speak out.
“I start hearing, ‘Magic, you are not working hard enough. Magic’s not in the office,'” Johnson told “First Take.” “People around the Lakers office were telling me Rob was saying things, Rob Pelinka, and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn’t in the office enough. So I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball now, just not in the Lakers office anymore, it’s in the media and so on.”
He also said he ran into resistance when he decided to fire coach Luke Walton.
“I said, ‘It’s time for me to go.’ I got things happening that was being said behind my back,” Johnson said. “I don’t have the power that I thought I had to make the decisions. And I told them, ‘When it’s not fun for me, when I think that I don’t have the decision-making power that I thought I had, then I’ve got to step aside.'”
Asked specifically to whom he was referring in his comment upon leaving the Lakers that he was the subject of “backstabbing,” he said simply, “If you are going to talk betrayal, it’s only with Rob.”
Indeed, pressed further if anyone else was involved in his departure from the franchise where he won five championships as a player, Johnson emphatically said once again, “Just Rob. Other people didn’t bother me. … What happened was I wasn’t having fun coming to work anymore, especially when I got to work beside you, knowing that you want my position.”
When Johnson left the Lakers on April 9, few were more surprised than LeBron James, the real power behind the throne in Los Angeles, who said that he would have appreciated at least a phone call from Johnson before the Lakers legend left town.
The “First Take” crew showed Johnson a clip of LeBron’s comments on his HBO show “The Shop,” and Johnson was apparently impressed by James’ remarks.
“I respect LeBron for what he just said,” he said after watching the clip. “I love LeBron, I love his family … but sometimes as a man, you have to make decisions based on your well-being. And I made that decision.”
A source connected to James told ESPN that the “King” thought Johnson “did well” handling his appearance on the network.
Johnson said Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss and fellow executive Tim Harris undermined his authority as president to make decisions, leaving him more of a puppet than a leader.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was I wanted to fire Luke Walton,” Johnson said. “I showed her the things he did well and the things he didn’t do well. I said, ‘Listen, we got to get a better coach.’ First day, ‘Well let’s think about it.’ Second day, ‘OK, you can fire him.’ Then the next day, ‘No, we should try to work it out.’
“So we went back and forth like that, and then she brought Tim Harris into the meeting, some of the guys, and Tim wanted to keep him because he was friends with him. I said, when I looked up, I only really answer to Jeanie Buss. Now I got Tim involved.”
He also talked in detail about the surfeit of people with ambitions of ultimate authority over the basketball team and that glut’s paralysis of actually getting something done.
“[Harris] is supposed to run Lakers business, but he was trying to come over to our side,” Johnson said. “Have everybody who has a role with the Lakers, stay in that role. OK, Tim Harris, you’re the president of business, stay over there in business. Jesse and Joey [Buss], hey, you’re the general manager assistant to Rob. Joey, you run the G League team. Then do that and do it well. Once you show you can drive excellence, now maybe you can move to another department. But right now, everybody has a voice.”
The Lakers have been a dumpster fire ever since longtime owner Jerry Buss died in 2013. Their last playoff appearance came that season, a meek first-round surrender in four games to the San Antonio Spurs. The 2015-16 edition of the team put up the worst record (15-67) in franchise history. The last time LA won a playoff series, a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant — the same age James is now — led the 2012 team to the second round.
But the situation in their front office is no longer Magic Johnson’s problem.
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