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In the two weeks since we last chronicled the biggest dumpster-fire moments of the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers’ season, recently resigned president of basketball operations Magic Johnson provided a new No. 1 to an already staggering list, throwing the entire organization under the bus on national television, including owner Jeanie Buss, general manager Rob Pelinka and former coach Luke Walton.
Thanks to a thoroughly reported long-form feature from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, that list just doubled again on Tuesday. The piece reveals a more detailed outline of the organizational dysfunction in L.A., complete with alleged specifics on the front office’s authoritarian rule, a “shadow owner” and a Trojan Horse on the team plane.
Every ridiculous detail is crazier than the next, but here are five that stand out:
1. Magic was “a fear monger” who “used intimidation and bullying as a way of showing authority,” according to Holmes’ sources, which reportedly included roughly two dozen current and former staffers at every level of the organization.
Among the more damning details was the revelation that the culture Johnson created allegedly led to at least two employees suffering panic attacks and requiring anti-anxiety prescriptions. Magic reportedly chewed one of them out for mishandling a car service for a draft prospect, shouting, “I don’t stand for mistakes! I don’t make mistakes!” which is ironic given the number of very public mistakes Johnson made in two mostly disastrous years at the helm of a franchise in turmoil.
"Every day you go in there and you get this horrible feeling of anxiety," another anonymous employee, this one an executive, told Holmes. "In the last year, I can't tell you how many panic attacks I've had from the s--- that has happened there."
2. Magic and Pelinka left the rest of the Lakers staff in the dark when it came to free agency and draft decisions, according to Holmes. It is unsurprising to learn that their signings of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley were allegedly made with little input from anyone outside of LeBron James, but the degree to which they reportedly avoided consulting their staff — to the point that many of them learned of the deals on TV — is no less jarring to see in print.
"We all had the same reaction that the basketball world did, like what the f--- are we doing?" a member of the Lakers coaching staff told Holmes. "Not only are we not getting shooting, but we're also getting every basket case left on the market."
Just as wild is the story of how Johnson and Pelinka separated themselves from the rest of the staff during the 2018 draft and picked Michigan’s Mo Wagner over Villanova’s Omari Spellman, who was the highest-ranked player left on their board. Not only did they learn of that decision on TV, too, but Pelinka’s reported reasoning was just as mind-boggling: He allegedly consulted Villanova product and Lakers guard Josh Hart, who, of course, did not play with Spellman on the Wildcats.
3. The Lakers reportedly let agent Rich Paul have the run of the place. Not only did the Lakers reportedly let Paul — LeBron’s longtime friend and agent — influence their decisions to allow Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to play while serving a jail sentence and to admonish Walton’s coaching acumen weeks into the season, but they allegedly gave him unfettered access that went well beyond even the franchise’s decision-making process, allowing him to fly on the team’s plane.
Naturally, this rankled coaches who reportedly believed Paul wanted them fired and players who allegedly believed he wanted them traded for Anthony Davis. One agent described it to ESPN as “destructive,” while others are reportedly growing wary of their clients joining the Lakers for fear they will be poached by Paul.
Save for the part about him flying on the team plane, Paul denied most every accusation to ESPN, including one story about how he reportedly approached NBA commissioner Adam Silver with his concerns about Walton serving as Lakers coach. He reportedly preferred Tyronn Lue, who, as we now know, the team failed to sign after Walton’s firing because they lowballed him with a “pitiful” offer.
Professional jealousy no doubt exists in the agency world, but the mere fact that players and coaches believe Paul’s influence is so powerful with the Lakers is cause for concern on its own. Nobody seems to know who really runs the organization.
Not to worry, we’re only halfway through the latest in ludicrous Lakers dealings.
4. Pelinka is reportedly a pathological liar. Or, at least that’s the logical conclusion after reading the many accusations his employees leveled via ESPN.
Perhaps the most bizarre example involves the late actor Heath Ledger. You may recall the story Pelinka once told his team — in front of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, no less — about the time his former client, Kobe Bryant, asked to meet with Ledger upon seeing his performance in “The Dark Knight,” and how their dinner together inspired one of Bryant’s most memorable games against the New York Knicks.
This, according to Holmes, never happened. Ledger died six months before “The Dark Knight” was released, and Bryant had reportedly not seen an early screening.
"We think, more often than not, he's not being truthful," a member of the team’s coaching staff told Holmes of Pelinka’s input on everything from free-agent and draft decisions to personnel hirings. "That goes throughout the organization."
It’s hard to fathom how Pelinka still has the GM job after reading this, but ...
5. Linda Rambis reportedly revels in her ability to control Jeanie Buss — her friend, boss and the controlling owner of this dysfunctional franchise. Linda is the wife of former Lakers player and coach Kurt Rambis. Her official title with the Lakers is executive director of special projects, but the most special of those projects, one front-office source told Holmes, is serving as the “shadow owner” who “controls and manipulates” Jeanie — a responsibility she reportedly “loves.”
Linda and Kurt Rambis are close confidants of Buss and her ex-fiance, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, so Kurt’s presence in team meetings was reportedly alarming — and not just because of his failed track record as a coach. His wife’s support for Pelinka may be the reason he is still serving as GM, according to Holmes, and that goes five steps beyond alarming. The Lakers bill themselves as a family-run business, but it’s clear here that nobody in this family trusts each other.
And for good reason. Until next we learn of more Lakers dysfunction.
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