Lakers' Rob Pelinka Finds It 'Saddening' Magic Johnson Believes Misperceptions

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2019

FILE - In this July 11, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka speaks at a news conference at the NBA basketball team's headquarters in El Segundo, Calif. The  Lakers say they have mutually agreed to part ways with coach Luke Walton after three losing seasons. Pelinka announced Walton's departure Friday, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
Reed Saxon/Associated Press

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka responded to criticisms levied by Magic Johnson on Monday, calling the comments "disheartening" and "not true."

"It's saddening and disheartening to think he believes things that are a misperception," Pelinka said. "I think all of us in life probably have been through things where maybe there's third-party whispers or he-said-she-said things that aren't true.

"I have talked to him several times since he decided to step away. We've had many joy-filled conversations...so these things are surprising to hear and disheartening. But I look forward to the opportunity to talk with him and sit down with him and work through them just like in any relationship. They're just simply not true." 

Johnson appeared on ESPN's First Take earlier Monday and laid the blame for his resignation largely on the shoulders of Pelinka, who he feels "betrayed" him.

"If you're going to talk betrayal, it's only with Rob," Johnson said. "But, again, I had to look inside myself. I had been doing that for months. Because I didn't like that Tim Harris was too involved in basketball. He's supposed to run the Laker business, but he was trying to come over to our side. Jeanie's gotta stop that. You gotta stop people from having those voices."

Johnson also said Pelinka began talking to others in the organization behind his back last season, saying he was not at the team facilities enough. When she hired Johnson, Jeanie Buss gave him freedom to continue his business dealings outside the Lakers.

"Things got going in the right direction, and then I start hearing, you know, 'Magic, you're not working hard enough. Magic's not in the office.' So people around the Laker office was telling me Rob was saying things—Rob Pelinka—and I didn't like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn't in office enough and so on and on. So I start getting calls from my friends outside of basketball saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball. Now not just in the Laker office anymore, now it's in the media and so on. ... And people gotta remember something, being in this business for over 40 years, I got allies, I got friends everywhere."

Johnson resigned abruptly before the Lakers' final regular-season game of the season without informing any of his superiors or players. He said during that press conference he wanted to get back to being Magic Johnson, which he did Monday, holding court and opening up about the inner workings of the Lakers throughout the lengthy interview.

Pelinka and Johnson were hired together during the 2016-17 season. Aside from signing LeBron James, their personnel record is shaky at best. They deserve credit for plucking Kyle Kuzma out of the late first round, but that came at the expense of trading D'Angelo Russell, who was an All-Star. Their free-agency moves aside from James this offseason were a complete mess as they allowed the likes of Brook Lopez and Julius Randle to leave in free agency.

There is little reason to believe either Johnson or Pelinka is qualified to run an NBA front office. The fact that either Pelinka was sabotaging Johnson behind his back or that Johnson perceived it to be that way is all the evidence you need of the toxicity of the Lakers organization at the moment. 

It's possible Pelinka will right the ship, but it's hard to see that happening following a complete mess of a coaching search. 

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