If you are a Los Angeles Lakers fan or Lakers hater, I am sure that you read the ESPN feature written by Baxter Holmes this week on the dysfunction within the Lakers organization. If you didn’t read it then I’m sure you saw it either on First Take or High Noon or PTI (I would name a Fox show if I knew any but that would require me having to listen to Cowherd’s shrill voice or listen to Whitlock pander and pontificate as if he is the smartest man alive while wearing a fedora that is just a tad too small for his head) or literally any sports television show. If you didn’t read it and you didn’t see it then you surely heard it on whichever sports podcast or radio show you prefer whether it be Rich Eisen, Dan Patrick, Stephen A or the Lebatard Show with Stu Gotz and if you haven’t heard about it then how did you end up here in the sports section?
If you are unfamiliar (I would go read the article but I'll summarize briefly), Holmes met with many people within the Lakers organization from front office people, former players to scouts and asked them about what has been going on since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over as president of the Lakers and general manager in March of 2017. Now, I think the first thing we need to remember is how anyone that isn’t blinded by their Lakers love was skeptical of these hirings because neither of these men had any, and by any I mean zero, experience doing their jobs before which begs the question, were they qualified? I can already hear the Lakers fans arguing in my email, so, just to remind everyone Magic was fined for tampering twice in the first year with the first one costing the Lakers a record $500,000.
The article touches on many things from the mass exodus of employees that had worked for the Lakers for years to Magic running the organization through fear but what I find as the most damning tidbit of information from the story was the fact that the Lakers had two separate war rooms for the draft. That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. The article talked about Magic and Pelinka signing players without talking to scouts or even one another which I don’t think is all that uncommon. I don’t think it is a normal business practice for successful organizations but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it happens on occasion. But two separate war rooms split into Magic and Pelinka and then the scouts and front office personnel? What is the point of hiring scouts and sending them out on the road and having them work year-round for the sole purpose of getting the best players in the draft if you aren’t going to use them? Is that just pure arrogance or stupidity?
One of the main parts of the article is about Johnson’s demeanor within the organization and Holmes mentions people in the front office not knowing if Ervin, or Magic was going to show up for work that day. The story talks about Ervin ruling with fear as some employees said they were scared to go to human resources with their problems for fear of being fired. One woman even claimed to have to enter therapy after leaving the Lakers after a meeting with Johnson involving a mistake when ordering a car for a draft prospect. It is reported that Johnson told her she would be fired the next time that she messes up.
This is the part of the article that I don’t think is as much of a story as the media is trying to make it. Let's be real for one second, the Lakers are a dumpster fire and have been since 2013. Fun fact: the Lakers are tied with the Knicks, yes the New York Knicks, for the most losses since 2013 at 329, is that good? It isn’t irrational to think that there were a lot of people within the organization who weren’t so great at their jobs so I am OK with the number of firings. As for the lady that was told she would be fired, Johnson obviously went about sending the message the wrong way if this poor woman felt the need for therapy but if your job is to get cars for draft prospects and you don’t do that, you’re going to lose your job. What I also found funny about the article was the amount of employee’s claiming they feared Johnson walking through the halls when it has been widely reported, even Johnson said it himself, that he wasn’t in the office all that often. How are you going to be scared of someone that is only in the office a few days a week? In my experience, the fear that comes when your boss is walking toward you only comes from your own insecurities because you know you have been slacking or are behind on something. If you are doing your job and doing it well then what is there to worry about?
Those weren’t the bad parts for the Lakers fan. There are three things in the article that I think really shine a spotlight on what is really going on in the organization and they all come from the top. The Lakers have always been run like a mom-and-pop shop meaning they hire their friends and family because they feel they can trust them rather than potentially getting the best candidates. Doing business like this used to work. I have seen almost no one allude to this point but the Lakers have plummeted since the death of Jerry Buss in 2013. Owners make a huge difference in sports franchises. Look at the premier organizations in all of sports right now like the New England Patriots and the Krafts, the Rooney’s and the Pittsburgh Steelers and the old New York Yankee’s with Steinbrenner. Plain and simple owners matter if for no other reason than they set the tone.
Shortly after Buss’ passing his daughter Jeanie took over as owner and I believe this is where most of the blame should lie and why the Lakers aren’t returning to their glory days, maybe ever. The article claims that there are people within the organization that think that Linda Rambis, wife of former Lakers great Kurt Rambis who liked a porn video on Twitter then ardently denied it as if we didn’t have proof, is actually the shadow owner of the Lakers. How is she a shadow owner? Because she and Jeanie are best friends and discuss everything including business decisions and apparently Rambis’ opinion matters a lot. That is something that can not happen for a successful sports franchise.
Johnson’s biggest success is undoubtedly bringing in LeBron James but as we all know bringing LeBron also means bringing Rich Paul who is his business partner and runs Klutch sports agency. That alone is not a problem but the report that Paul has ridden at least once on the team charter is not a good look. An agent, and not just any agent but a pretty powerful one, with that kind of special access, scares other agents away. There isn’t an agent in the world that would really want to send his player to a team that has another agent always around snooping and looking for new clients no matter how big the contract is.
Now in recent weeks, the Lakers couldn’t even get the coach they wanted because for some reason it is important to them to pick their head coach’s lead assistant. What? How does that make sense? Not only did they want to pick the lead assistant, they wanted the assistant to be Jason Kidd who, one, is known to go behind peoples’ backs to management to get what he wants, two, is a bad coach who handicapped Giannis Antetokounmpo, three, is a terrible human being with horrible domestic violence in his past.
The agents on the plane, the shadow owner, not being able to hire a coach, tension in the office and multiple war rooms are things that might not be exactly in the owner's job description but are certainly part of the culture they set. Oh, and Jeanie Buss has been liking tweets defending Johnson who just left the organization in shambles and is bashing it publically every chance he gets. Throw in the expansion of social media and its access and LA isn’t that desirable anymore as players can get branding anywhere using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Ask yourself if you were a free agent in the NBA worried about winning rings and legacy, would you really want to go to an organization run like this?