The Los Angeles Lakers announced Tuesday that they have purged their front office in a shake-up that will leave former Laker great Earvin “Magic” Johnson in charge of turning the once-great franchise around following the worst half-decade of basketball in its lauded history.
In a release, the team said it has put Johnson “in charge of all basketball operations” and fired general manager Mitch Kupchak, who had overseen the team’s day-to-day basketball decisions since 2000. The Lakers are already “well underway” in their search for a new general manager, they said.
Additionally, the team announced that vice president of public relations John Black has been relieved of his duties, and Jim Buss, the son of the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss and one of the team’s owners, will no longer hold the title of executive vice president of basketball operations. Chief operating officer Tim Harris will also find his own replacement, the release said.
The news shocked the basketball world for multiple reasons ― for one, simply because Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and John Black had all been associated with the Lakers for decades, over which time the franchise won five championships and made it to seven NBA Finals with star players like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The decision also comes just two days before the NBA trade deadline, and two days after reports emerged that the flailing team decided against including Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, in any trade discussions for enigmatic NBA All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. (Cousins was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans soon after the All-Star Game on Sunday evening.)
The Lakers currently have the third-worst record in the league and a strong incentive to stay that bad, if not get worse, since the team will give its first-round draft pick in the 2017 NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers should it fall out of the top three.
As such, many basketball insiders expected them to shop leading scorer Lou Williams at the deadline in an attempt to heighten their odds at keeping their pick in the draft come June.
But with Mitch Kupchak gone and no clear replacement in order, how they will be able to make such a trade has left analysts scratching their heads.
Johnson first returned to the team in February, when it was announced he would become a business and and basketball adviser to Jeanie Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers’ team president and Jim Buss’ sister.
Jeanie, who remains the team’s top decision-maker, said Tuesday that she made the decision to clean house with the team’s best interests in mind, and Johnson called it a “dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family.”
But the decision to replace Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak with Magic Johnson has left many Lakers fans nervous. Even though the team is currently just 19–39, Kupchak had recently drafted well, picking up solid pieces like Ingram and D’Angelo Russell in the first round of the draft, as well as finding gems like Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac in the second.
Kupchak had also helmed a number of the league’s biggest transactions during his time with the Lakers, including trading for Pau Gasol, who became the second best player on two championship teams, and agreeing to a deal with the then-New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul ― which was infamously rescinded by the league for “basketball reasons,” leading to the stretch of mediocre-to-bad Lakers basketball that continues to this day.
Whether Johnson can pull something off that Kupchak couldn’t remains to be seen, but many remained dubious on Tuesday as they laughed about some of his famously head-scratching tweets.
Either way, this is the end of one era and the start of another.