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Magic Johnson Reportedly Given Power to Fire Luke Walton Before Resignation

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2019

Magic Johnson speaks to reporters prior to an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. Johnson abruptly quit as the Lakers' president of basketball operations Tuesday night, citing his desire to return to the simpler life he enjoyed as a wealthy businessman and beloved former player before taking charge of the franchise just over two years ago. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Magic Johnson reportedly could have fired Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton before he elected to step down as the team's president of basketball operations Tuesday.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported the news early Wednesday morning, noting Lakers owner Jeanie Buss granted Johnson permission to do so in part because Walton wouldn't "bulk up" his coaching staff.

However, Johnson instead announced his decision to resign during a press conference before he told Buss:

NBA TV @NBATV

BREAKING: Magic Johnson has stepped down as Lakers' President of Basketball Operations. https://t.co/yrHkguOO02

Dave McMenamin @mcten

Magic Johnson: “(Jeanie) doesn’t know I’m standing here.”

Bill Oram @billoram

Stunning. Magic says he has not told Jeanie his decision. “Somebody’s going to have to tell my boss because I knew I couldn’t be face-to-face and tell her. ... I couldn’t stand to tell her.” Says what she had in him was someone she could trust and be loyal.

Haynes reported Johnson didn't believe in Walton's ability to make adjustments during games or develop young players. Breakout years from D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle after they left Walton's tutelage stood out to the Hall of Famer in particular.

Johnson also eyed replacements for Walton during the season even though Buss was initially reluctant, according to Haynes. Part of her hesitation came from the potential perception that LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul, were driving the decisions since former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue and Mark Jackson, a Paul client, were among the potential targets.

As for Walton's relationship with Johnson, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported earlier Tuesday the two hadn't spoken for weeks. Following Los Angeles' 104-101 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, Walton told reporters he "found out the same time you guys did" about Johnson's decision to resign.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported the entire coaching staff believed it would be fired for months, although he suggested Johnson's departure could change things for Walton:

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Luke Walton has two years left on his contract, but only next season is guaranteed, per source. Lakers hold option on 2020-21 season. Johnson planned to fire him, but stumbled into his own resignation on the way. Somehow, Walton survived Magic Johnson. He didn't see that coming.

Still, Haynes' report indicates Buss is fine with moving on from Walton, which could spell trouble for the coach after he failed to make the playoffs in any of his first three seasons at the helm.

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