The Lakers organization has been a hot mess for most of this season. Now a new report from ESPN is letting us in on a lot of the details.
From last summer’s weird free agent additions to the botched Anthony Davis trade negotiations, to Magic Johnson’s resignation and the disastrous head coaching search, it has not been a good year for the Lakers. Rumors about all sorts of ineffective management structures and psychological blindspots have persisted all season but now a new report from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes is taking us behind the scenes, connecting the dots and adding a lot of fresh details.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Holmes’ reporting.
1. Magic Johnson sounds like a giant bully
Given how things fractured in the Lakers’ organization it’s pretty easy to draw some negative conclusions about the efficacy of Magic’s management style. Given some of the anecdotes in this article, he’s not just an ineffective leader but a toxic one. In addition to all the extended absences, one of his first interactions with the large staff was to tell them he did not tolerate mistakes and to threaten all their jobs.
Pointing upstairs, toward his office, Johnson drove home his point. He had a large stack of resumes sitting on his desk — “a thousand” of them, multiple staffers recall him saying — and he could replace any of them at any time.
The article mentions Johnson using intimidation as a core management style and highlighted both the extremely high level of turnover under his tenure, and a specific example of a long-time employee who was traumatized by getting chewed out by Johnson and ultimately left the team.
2. There don’t appear to be any professional boundaries
Among the boundary-blurring examples in this piece were anecdotes about Rob Pelinka sitting in on team meetings with players and coaches, Pelinka and Johnson making unilateral draft-day decisions in a second war room, isolated from scouts and other front office staff, and LeBron’s agent Rich Paul making himself at home throughout the team’s facilities.
For instance, three Lakers sources familiar with team travel details independently told ESPN that Paul rode on the Lakers’ charter plane on multiple occasions this season, an act that front-office executives, other NBA general managers and other agents around the league said is highly unusual — if not unheard of.
3. The Anthony Davis trade negotiations actually were as bad for chemistry as they appeared to be
Having all of their young players publicly dangled in an Anthony Davis trade that never materialized certainly seemed to weigh on the team, eroding trust and unity. ESPN’s reporting certainly confirmed that.
“Guys know there’s no trust there,” one Lakers coaching staff member told ESPN before the season ended. “Guys know the new [administration] has completely bent over to the agent world and were overly sensitive to having these one-sided relationships with these guys where they kind of control our every move because we’re ‘big-game hunting.’”
4. Rob Pelinka is a storyteller (the recklessly exaggerating kind)
Pelinka always presented himself as a storyteller but there are at least two examples in ESPN’s reporting of outright lies. The first — when Luke Walton asked him to consider not attending coaching meetings with players, pointing out that Warriors GM Bob Myers never did, Pelinka responded that Myers had made that standard practice since Luke Walton left the team, something that turned out to be not true at all. The second one is just as ridiculous and even easier to fact check.
“There was one time when Kobe, who I worked with for 18 years, was going back to play in Madison Square Garden, and he had just seen ‘The Dark Knight,’” Pelinka said. “Obviously, you guys saw that movie, and he’s like, ‘Hey, hook me up with dinner with Heath Ledger, because he got so locked into that role. I want to know how he mentally went there.’ So, he had dinner with Heath, and he talked about how he locks in for a role.
“And Kobe used some of that in his game against the Knicks.”
“The Dark Knight” was released in July 2008, six months after Ledger died. A source with direct knowledge said no such arrangement was made and no dinner ever took place.
5. This is just how things are going to be now
For a Lakers fan, this is probably the biggest gut punch in the whole piece:
Multiple team staffers, as well as others close to the organization, cast doubt on the possibility of the team changing its pattern of “Lakers family” hirings or on overhauling the culture itself. As one source close to the coaching staff said of Buss, “She has accepted that this is who they are.”