Sources: Magic Johnson thought Lakers coaches lacked ability to develop young players
LOS ANGELES — Lakers owner Jeanie Buss recently gave Magic Johnson permission to fire coach Luke Walton at the conclusion of this season after being informed of Walton’s unwillingness to “bulk up" his coaching staff, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Johnson, who held an impromptu news conference outside the Lakers’ locker room Tuesday to announce his resignation as president before the team’s final game of the season against the Portland Trail Blazers, had been displeased with Walton’s ability to effectively make in-game adjustments and he felt the coaching staff lacked the experience and expertise to foster player development, sources said.
Young Lakers castoffs D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle put together career years with the Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans, respectively, which led to Johnson questioning Walton’s coaching staff, sources said. The Lakers — in LeBron James’ first season — were expected to at least make the playoffs, but they fell short of that goal for the sixth consecutive season.
Johnson wanted to replace Walton during the season, but Buss was reluctant to venture down that road until now, sources said.
The 59-year-old business mogul told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday he had the power to do what he saw fit for the franchise and said what would have transpired after exit interviews on Wednesday had nothing to do with why he made the shocking decision to resign.
In the 45-minute presser, he said that being happy and being himself with the freedom to openly converse with players and regaining a stronger hold in the African-American and Latino communities were his main reasons for stepping down.
Walton has one guaranteed year remaining on his contract and a team option for the 2020-21 season, sources confirmed. The embattled coach refused to address Johnson’s resignation after the Lakers’ 104-101 loss.
Former Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, Sixers assistant Monty Williams and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson were on the short list of candidates to replace Walton, with Lue and Williams being the primary targets, sources said.
But there was initially some pause from Buss, who was sensitive to the likelihood that the pursuit of Lue and Jackson would be perceived as James and his agent Rich Paul running the show and spearheading the coaching search, sources said.
Eventually, Buss’ concerns were alleviated after she reiterated the Lakers are a “Buss-ran organization,” sources said.
Walton’s eventual replacement has been an ongoing discussion for much of the season.
In early January, the Lakers suffered a 22-point pounding on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves — their third straight loss and fifth in six games.
The next day in Dallas, Lue was spotted in the team's hotel lobby chatting with assistant Brian Shaw, sources said. This caused some uneasiness from a few within the organization. Some thought Lue’s presence at that juncture was in poor taste, sources said.
A few months later, The Athletic reported that Lue reached out to Walton to assure him he wasn’t contacted by the Lakers about his coaching position.
On Tuesday, it was a bizarre, unimaginable scene.
The large media contingent that Johnson drew blocked the entrance to the Lakers’ locker room. While Johnson was explaining his decision, players and coaches were uncomfortably walking in and out of the locker room.
Pregame media access to the locker room was canceled. Johnson held court for the entire pregame availability. Assistants Miles Simon and Mark Madsen stood in the background to take in the scene. Johnson even held another 20-minute media scrum later and did a television interview.
Of all the missteps that took place during what has been a disappointing season, this episode trumped all. Buss, according to Johnson, had no clue he was going to resign.
And now she’s in good company, because no one has a clue what’s going to happen next.
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