The Los Angeles Lakers are in a situation they are not used to being in. They are a rebuilding team, looking to begin a new era with Kobe Bryant not on the roster for the first time since the 1996-97 season. The Lakers know they are heading in a new direction on the court and will now be heading in a new one in the front office as well.
The Lakers announced on Tuesday that they will be shaking up their front office. Magic Johnson, who was hired as an advisor for the ownership, will be promoted. Johnson will take over as President of Basketball Operations.
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As a result, the Lakers have fired general manager Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss has been stripped of his title as vice president of basketball operations. John Black, the vice president of public relations, was also fired.
This is a huge move for Los Angeles, as Kupchak has been with the team for 30 seasons, the last 17 of which have been as general manager. Kupchak took over for Jerry West in August of 2000 and represented the longest-tenured stretch for a front office in the NBA.
The Lakers were very successful with Kupchak running the show. The team won four NBA titles with him as general manager and won the fifth most games in the NBA over that time span.
But the Lakers have fallen on tough times in recent seasons. They have missed the postseason for three consecutive seasons, with a fourth likely on deck this season. That is the longest playoff drought in the history of the franchise.
As result, team governor Jeanie Buss felt it was time to finally make a move. She released a statement on the change.
“Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect. Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me.
“Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness.”
Both Jeanie and Jim took on a greater responsibility within the Lakers when their father Jerry passed away in February 2013. Jim had a three-to-four year plan in place to bring the Lakers back to prominence, but that plan has fallen short. Instead of being a contender again, Los Angeles is one of the worst teams currently in the NBA.
Jeanie felt that they could not wait any longer and fired her brother on Tuesday. Now Johnson will take charge and try bringing the team back to the level of success they had when he was a player and at the beginning of Kupchak’s tenure.
Johnson was grateful for the chance being given to him in a statement.
“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. 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.”
Johnson has been a mainstay with the Lakers since they selected him in 1979. He was a part of five NBA championship teams with the Lakers and has worked with them in the past as well. He was honorary vice president, which he stepped down from last June. He also held stocks in the team, which he sold in 2011.
This is a shocking move given the timing. The NBA Trade Deadline is on Thursday, and the Lakers are without a general manager. Johnson was not promoted to the general manager role, but will play a part in the hiring process.
One person to keep an eye on is Kobe Bryant’s agent and former Michigan Wolverine Fab Five teammate Rob Pelinka, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
This will obviously be a situation to keep an eye on in the coming days. The trade deadline is an important time for the Lakers as they look to continue adding future assets. Will they be able to do that with Johnson now leading the way without a general manager in place? We will have to wait and see.