EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Magic Johnson returned to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday as an adviser to owner Jeanie Buss, possibly signaling a change in the power structure of the 16-time NBA champion franchise.
Johnson, one of the most beloved players in franchise history, will assist Buss ”in all areas of basketball and business,” according to the team’s news release. Buss’ brother, Jim, currently runs the Lakers’ basketball operations with general manager Mitch Kupchak, but Los Angeles is in the midst of its fourth consecutive terrible season during the longest playoff drought in franchise history.
”We are thrilled and honored to add Magic’s expertise and abilities, and I look forward to working alongside him,” Jeanie Buss said.
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The Lakers say Johnson will report directly to Jeanie Buss, who has stayed out of basketball operations during her four years running the franchise following the death of her father.
Jerry Buss wanted Jim Buss to run the basketball side of the family business, but Johnson’s arrival seems to signal Jeanie Buss’ desire for more influence in the on-court product of a team that was the NBA’s most exciting during Magic’s Showtime playing days.
”Everyone knows my love for the Lakers,” Johnson said. ”Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities, however my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice. I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA.”
Jim Buss claimed in 2014 that he would step down if the Lakers weren’t a championship contender again by 2017. That hasn’t happened, and though Jim Buss’ declaration isn’t legally binding, Jeanie Buss has said she would hold the franchise to that timeline.
The Lakers have been through the worst times in their glowing history since failing in their 2012-13 attempt to chase a title with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. While Bryant struggled with injuries, the Lakers posted the worst record in franchise history for three straight seasons, culminating in last year’s 17-65 embarrassment in Bryant’s 20th and final campaign.
The current Lakers are much more entertaining under first-year coach Luke Walton, but they still have the NBA’s third-worst record at 17-34 heading into a five-game road trip starting Thursday in Washington. Their playoff drought is all but certain to reach a club-record four seasons.
”I’m excited, obviously,” Walton said before Thursday’s game against the Wizards. ”He’s Magic Johnson. Not only one of the all-time great Lakers, but one of the great all-time NBA players. He’s a champion. It’s a nice piece to have on your side.”
Johnson was an honorary vice president of the Lakers until last year, when the title was dropped at his request – and also because Johnson frequently tweeted criticism of Lakers coaches and handed out praise for free agents, possibly in violation of league rules. Johnson also held an ownership stake in the Lakers, but sold it to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong in 2010.
Johnson has enjoyed successful careers in business and broadcasting after retiring from his playing and coaching career with the Lakers, where he enjoyed an extraordinarily close relationship with Jerry Buss. The former point guard is a part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, among many other endeavors.
”Magic Johnson is one of the NBA’s greatest players and it is terrific to see him returning to the Lakers,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. ”He is a truly special person and a natural leader with a relentless passion for basketball and profound knowledge of the game.”
Jim Buss started working in the Lakers’ front office in 1998 after dabbling as a horse trainer and an executive for an indoor soccer team. He and Kupchak have built a solid base of young talent in the last three years, drafting Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram with high picks.
But the Lakers still appear to be far from contention, and they must give up their first-round draft pick this season if it doesn’t fall in the top three under the profligate conditions of the current front office’s long-ago trade for Nash.
Johnson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Lakers in 1979, and he played his entire career with Los Angeles, winning five NBA titles and three league MVP awards.