Lakers Rumors: Magic Johnson Wanted to Fire Luke Walton, Rob Pelinka Before Exit

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: Magic Johnson resigns as the Lakers' president of basketball operations prior to a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on April 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Stephen A. Smith reported Wednesday on ESPN's First Take that Magic Johnson stepped down as the Los Angeles Lakers' president of basketball operations after attempting to fire both head coach Luke Walton and general manager Rob Pelinka.

Smith noted that he and other ESPN insiders were told that Johnson went into a meeting with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss on Monday with the intention of firing Walton and Pelinka, although both Buss and Pelinka denied that to Smith:

"In fairness to Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka, I was told that Magic Johnson walked into there and talked with them, with Jeanie rather, about wanting to get rid of not just Luke Walton, but Rob Pelinka as well, and that's when Jeanie Buss got her back up. Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka called me last night categorically and emphatically denied that there is any truth to that whatsoever, but whether it's [Adrian] Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne or a host of other NBA reporters, all of us have heard this within the last 12 hours."

Pelinka, who previously acted as Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's agent, had worked in tandem with Johnson in the Lakers' front office for two years.

Both Johnson and Pelinka were hired by Buss in February 2017, and Smith reported their relationship was good until recently:

"Magic, according to my sources, until a few weeks ago, Magic and Pelinka were fine. Absolutely fine. And then all of a sudden, Magic became aware that things were going on behind the scenes that he didn't like and he thought some of it was coming from Rob. Rob, obviously in defense of himself, was absolutely right to come to his defense because you've got people that are jealous and envious of his accomplishments and could be lying about Rob Pelinka. But the reality is it got to Magic."

Johnson stepped down prior to Tuesday's season-ending loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Johnson told reporters about the decision to leave his post: "I want to go back to having fun. I want to go back to being who I was before taking on this job."

While Smith's report on Johnson and Pelinka not getting along was new information, it was long rumored that Johnson and Walton were not on the same page.

Before Johnson's departure, Shelburne said on Tuesday's episode of The Jump on ESPN that Johnson and Walton hadn't spoken in "weeks."

Rachel Nichols @Rachel__Nichols

I opened #TheJump noting how so many of the Lakers' issues have zero to do with Luke Walton, so whether they fire him or not, they can't expect change until they face their deeper truths. Then @RamonaShelburne reported Magic hasn't spoken to Luke in weeks, and everyone went nuts: https://t.co/fDgJaIKs3C

On First Take, Jalen Rose chalked up Johnson's decision to leave to his belief that he would be unable to add a superstar to play alongside LeBron James during the offseason.

After finishing a disappointing 37-45 and missing the playoffs for the sixth straight season, there is pressure on L.A. to add another star. Acquiring Anthony Davis in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans is one possibility, as is signing Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving.

With Johnson out of the picture, Buss must either empower Pelinka to improve the roster or replace Johnson with a new president of basketball operations.