Lost in the noise of Magic Johnson’s bombshell appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” Monday was the actual Los Angeles Lakers business of introducing their new head coach.
The Lakers held a press conference Monday to introduce Frank Vogel, who culminated a tumultuous coaching search earlier in May when he agreed to a three-year deal that included bringing Jason Kidd onboard as an assistant — terms that Tyronn Lue turned down when discussing the job.
Magic upstages Lakers’ announcement
But when Johnson monopolized the collective attention of Los Angeles and national sports media by accusing Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka of stabbing him in the back, there was little interest in what Vogel had to say in his first official appearance as the team’s head coach.
Of course Johnson has no official capacity with the Lakers after resigning as the team’s president of basketball operations and no obligation to take stock before stepping on Vogel’s toes.
But he’s still arguably the most iconic face of the franchise and a man who expresses his love for the team every chance he gets, even while airing its dirty laundry.
Magic says he didn’t mean to overshadow Vogel
After Johnson set fire to Lakers’ brass with his “First Take” appearance, he spoke with the Los Angeles Times. He mostly reiterated what he said earlier on ESPN, but he also addressed upstaging Vogel.
He told The Times that he didn’t intend overshadow Vogel’s introduction, but that he had scheduled his “First Take” appearance two weeks ago before the Lakers and Vogel reached a deal.
Magic calls for support of Vogel
He also expressed support for the new Lakers coach.
"All of us as Lakers fans got to do one thing,” Johnson told The Times. “We got to support Frank Vogel as the coach.”
Yes, Pelinka was the ‘backstabber’
Johnson also made crystal clear that yes, he was referring to Pelinka when he mentioned “backstabbing” and that he was not happy with reports that he was a largely absentee executive when running the Lakers’ basketball operations.
"So, that's who I was talking about when I said backstabber,” Johnson said. “Just you got to be a stand-up guy, a stand-up person. If you got a problem with me or something I'm doing, just come and tell me.”
After clarifying that Pelinka was the backstabber, Johnson asked Lakers fans to continue to support the object of his ire.
So Lakers fans should support Pelinka?
“And Rob is in that position, we got to support him — until otherwise,” Johnson told The Times. “I'm not saying, 'Oh, fire him,' because of what happened. No, I'm not saying that.
“What I am saying is, this is what happened, and now let's make sure going forward these things don't continue to happen anymore. That's the bottom line."
Johnson wants it both ways
It’s a tough sell asking Lakers fans to support a man whose character he just torched. It’s also disingenuous for him to say that he’s not calling for firing Pelinka in the same sentence he suggests supporting him “until otherwise.”
Johnson is torn here. He wants to put on the public face of being the Lakers’ rah-rah supporter, asking fans to get behind the very people he’s publicly lambasting. At the same time, he’s throwing out the idea that he’d like to eventually buy the team.
It’s a confluence of ideas that don’t gel.
It’s OK — admirable, even — for Johnson to criticize the issues he sees inside the organization he loves. A true patriot isn’t afraid to call out problems when he sees them.
But this is not a situation where Johnson can have it both ways. If he’s going to take on the Lakers’ way of doing business so publicly, he needs to drop the cheerleader act.
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