The NBA offseason has been one of twists and turns for the Los Angeles Lakers ever since Magic Johnson stepped down as team president at season’s end. Additionally, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was under fire after Johnson said in late May that Pelinka was the one who was “backstabbing” him while both men worked for the team.
While all of this has been going on, Lakers governor and controlling owner Jeanie Buss has been silent on the events surrounding the franchise. However, she ended her silence on the matter at last night’s 2019 NBA Awards, speaking on the state of her team before the event got rolling. She minced no words, saying she stands behind Pelinka and was decidedly caught off guard by Johnson’s resignation as well.
She said her relationship with Johnson will “be fine” and backed the work Pelinka has done since coming aboard in the spring of 2017.
“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said, per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”
As to why she hadn’t spoken up on the matter of Johnson’s resignation and subsequent accusations against Pelinka, Buss said: “There really wasn’t anything to say,” Buss said, per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “I think that when Magic decided that he didn’t want to be with the organization any longer in an official capacity, that took me off guard. So I needed time to figure out what the process was going to be. That’s all. Just taking care of business and looking out after the organization.”
“It was a surprise when Magic turned in his resignation. I didn’t see that coming. But everything else has been pretty much as any organization moves forward and changes going into a new season. So as much as has been speculated as to what the Lakers are doing, to me, we are in a really good place and we are following our path, and our plan, going into the next season.”
The Lakers hired Frank Vogel as the team’s new coach on May 20, the same day in which Johnson went on ESPN’s “First Take” and lobbed his claims against Pelinka. That day, Pelinka said Johnson’s words were “surprising to hear and disheartening. … They’re just simply not true.” In Johnson’s absence, the Lakers were elevating Pelinka to the Lakers’ lead basketball executive.
“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said, per the Los Angeles Times. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”
Los Angeles has been active in the offseason already, reaching a reported trade with the New Orleans Pelicans that will net the Lakers superstar big man Anthony Davis. In exchange, the Lakers will reportedly send guard Lonzo Ball, guard Josh Hart and forward Brandon Ingram to the Pelicans.
Buss was at the awards to support Johnson receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award and to support former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal, who was serving as emcee of the event. When asked by ESPN about Johnson’s comments about Pelinka betraying him, Buss said: “I can’t really anticipate what he thinks. He has to answer those questions. He’s always full of surprises. Like as surprising as it was, it kind of reminded me of back in 1981 when he asked to be traded after winning a championship with the Lakers because he wasn’t happy with the way the offense had changed. And that led us to getting Pat Riley as our head coach.
“So he’s got good instincts. He’s got to stay true to who he is and do what is right for him. I wish I would’ve had a little bit more notice, but I think we are going to be just fine.”
Once the Davis trade is officially consummated, the Lakers will have plenty of work to do to round out a roster chock full of vacancies and needs. Buss knows that getting back to the top remains priority No. 1 for her and her team.
“There’s the gold standard, and then there’s the purple-and-gold standard,” Buss said, per ESPN. “Certainly, we are going to do everything we can to get the best players possible and to get the Lakers back to consistently be at that level. But we got a ways to go, and I think we are [heading] in the right direction, but at the end of the day, we will be judged by our wins and losses.
“The goal has always been to get back into the playoffs.”