MILWAUKEE – Barely a week into his new job, Magic Johnson is already after a bigger role.
Johnson, the Lakers Hall of Famer who rejoined the organization last week as an adviser to team president and co-owner Jeanie Buss, told USA Today he wanted “to call the shots.”
Asked what he hoped his role will be, Johnson responded: “Working to call the shots, because it only works that way. Right now I’m advising. I get that. But at the end of the day, then we all got to come together and somebody’s got to say, ‘I’m making the final call,’ all right? And who’s that going to be?”
Johnson spoke while attending UCLA’s win against fifth-ranked Oregon on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion, a game General Manager Mitch Kupchak also attended.
Lakers coach Luke Walton had not read the USA Today report as of Friday’s morning shootaround at BMO Harris Bradley Center and withheld comment on Johnson’s remarks, saying, “I guess I need more time to process that. There’s got to be more back story than just that quote.”
Walton said he and Johnson have plans to “sit down over lunch” after the Lakers’ five-game, 10-day trip concludes. So far, they have only discussed Johnson’s role in general terms.
Buss’ decision to bring the Lakers great back into the mix was widely interpreted as foreshadowing more changes at the top of the organization. Kupchak has endured criticism for spending $136 million last summer on veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Buss’ brother, Executive Vice President and co-owner Jim Buss, is on the clock after asserting three years ago that if the Lakers were not back in Western Conference contention by the end of this season that he would resign.
The Lakers, who play later Friday in Milwaukee, are 18-37.
“Look, Jim knows where we are,” Johnson said. “Jeanie knows where we are, as a franchise, and so some decisions have to be made.”
He added: “I may only be in this role for a short term, I may be here for a long time. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
According to the report, Johnson said his responsibilities will be defined by the end of the season.
When Johnson was hired on Feb. 2, it was unclear whether Johnson was brought in as a potential replacement to Jim Buss and Kupchak, or as just another voice in the room. Johnson has never worked in an NBA front office.
Walton has the strong support of Jeanie Buss and figures to take on more power as he grows into his position with the team. Johnson reiterated earlier comments that he plans to work closely with Walton, saying, “The key is Luke, because, OK, what does he have in terms of who’s making him happy?”
“It’s all coming together and working together,” Johnson said. “All of us. What do you like about the team you have now and what’s missing from the team? What would you like to see? And then he’ll tell you, ‘Well, I want this.’ OK, we’ll bring those type of guys. Which one do you feel really fits your system? He’ll say blah-blah-blah, I’ll say blah-blah-blah, OK, let’s go with so-and-so.”
Johnson, who is also a part owner of the Dodgers and Lakers, said he spent his first week in his new role trying to learn the ins and outs of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the other business aspects of the NBA.
He said “it’s going to take time” for the Lakers to return to the top of the West.
“I’m not going to fool nobody,” he said, “and I don’t want the fan base to think, ‘Oh, I’m back, so it’s going to turn around tomorrow.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
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