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Magic Johnson Named Lakers Pres of B'Ball Ops - This Is Sports Zone

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers dramatically reshaped their front office with a move that has been brewing for the last month. Co-owner Jeanie Buss removed her brother, Jim Buss from his position as executive vice president of basketball operations and fired longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak before naming Hall of Famer and franchise legend Magic Johnson, who had been hired as an advisor last month, their new president of basketball operations. Later in the day it was announced that sports agent Rob Pelinka was finalizing a multiyear deal to become the team’s next general manager, while Johnson completed his first trade as team president, sending guard Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for swingman Corey Brewer and a 2017 first-round draft pick.

Pelinka will have to divest himself from his clients at Landmark Sports agency. One of those clients, Eric Gordon of the Rockets, said the agent has told him and two other clients, fellow Houston players Trevor Ariza and James Harden, that Pelinka will be the next general manager of the Lakers. The blueprint for the agent-to-front-office transition was established by current Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers, who rose to the position in 2012 and was instrumental in the current composition of the team, and was named Executive of the Year in 2015.

Johnson was drafted by the Lakers in 1979, won five titles with the franchise during the 1980s. Johnson has held positions with the Lakers in the past, including head coach in 1994 (when he went 5-11) and honorary vice president, which he resigned from in June. He has also previously owned shares in the team, which he sold to Dr. Patrick Soon Shiong in 2011. He is now tasked with turning around a team that currently sits at 19-39, with the league’s third-worst record and second-worst record in the Western Conference in their first year without Kobe Bryant. They have spent the last two years accumulating a nucleus of young talent that includes D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance, and rookie Brandon Ingram, and are current led by first-year head coach Luke Walton, in his first full-time head coaching position.

“It’s a dream come true to return to the Lakers as president of basketball operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family,” Johnson said in a statement. Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

Kupchak spent 30 seasons with the Lakers, starting as a player, and was in his 17th as the team’s general manager. Jim Buss spent 19 seasons in the Lakers’ front office and was in his 12th as executive vice president of basketball operations. In 2014, Jim Buss publicly announced in the Los Angeles Times that he would step down within three years if the team hadn’t made a deep playoff run by then. Both Buss siblings took on more responsibility after the death of their father in February 2013.

“Jim loves the Lakers,” Jeanie Buss said in the statement. “Although he will no longer be responsible for basketball personnel decisions, he is an owner of this team and we share the same goal: returning the Lakers to the level of greatness our father demanded. Our fans deserve no less.” In a meeting later with Spectrum SportsNet, Jeanie Buss described what it was like to fire her brother from his position. “This was a very difficult decision. It was probably so hard for me to make that I probably waited too long,” she said. “For that, I apologize to Laker fans.”

The decision to fire her brother was a very long, involved process that Jeanie Buss has been leading, sources close to the situation said. It was her decision, not Magic’s, to fire Kupchak, Jim Buss and longtime Lakers publicist John Black. Jim Buss had hired lawyers to represent his interests, sources said, but the provisions governing the family trust that owns and operates the Lakers very clearly gave Jeanie Buss the authority to make these moves.

Jeanie Buss said this new role for Johnson really began coming together in earnest in January, when he reached out to her after she and longtime fiance Phil Jackson split. “He is like family with me and he was worried about me,” she said, adding that she and Johnson had dinner soon after. That’s where it seemed like the connection was right and [we] started talking and brought him in as an adviser,” Buss said. “I think everything has kind of opened up the right way and the timing was right and I couldn’t be happier and more proud. I think Dr. Buss would really be smiling right now seeing us together.”

Johnson and Jeanie Buss were asked how long it will take to turn the franchise around. “It’s going to take us a while,” Buss said. “I don’t want to fool the fans. We’re going to build this thing the right way.” Johnson added: “I can’t turn it around tomorrow. Or I really would be Magic, right?”

One thing both said was that they are not trying to bring back the Showtime Lakers of Johnson’s era. “We’re not trying to turn back the clock,” Buss said. “The Lakers have figured out how to win in every era, and certainly the game has evolved and the rules have changed, and we know in our discussions about evolving with the game and looking at what the modern NBA is all about. This isn’t about going to the past and recreating Showtime. You can’t recreate Showtime. … This is about the future and about finding the right team for the style that Luke Walton wants to play.”

Johnson said he will fly on the team’s charter plane to Oklahoma City for the Lakers’ game Friday. “I want to see how they practice, how they prepare for a game,” he said. “That’s really important. It’s one thing to see it on TV, but it’s another thing when you’re right there in person.” He’s excited to get started. “If you could draw up your dream job, what would it be? This would be it,” he said. Johnson gives up his role on ESPN’s NBA Countdown to take the Lakers job.

“Magic informed us of his decision to accept this opportunity with the Lakers and thus end his current role on NBA Countdown in order to focus on his newfound responsibilities,” ESPN said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the terrific contributions Magic has made to our NBA coverage and we wish him all the best. We look forward to documenting the next step in Magic’s unprecedented basketball journey.”

The Lakers also announced that they have parted ways with Black, the longtime publicist who was with the team for 27 seasons. Lakers chief operating officer Tim Harris will immediately search for Black’s replacement, the Lakers noted in their statement.

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