SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Lakers governor and controlling owner Jeanie Buss said she was stunned by Magic Johnson’s shocking resignation but that she has full confidence in Rob Pelinka directing Los Angeles’ basketball operations.
Speaking Monday for the first time since Johnson shocked the Lakers and then later accused Pelinka of backstabbing him, Buss said the Lakers “are in a really good place” and are “on the right path.”
“There really wasn’t anything to say,” Buss said at the NBA Awards show of why she has remained quiet until now. “I think that when Magic decided that he didn’t want to be with the organization any longer in an official capacity, that took me off guard. So I needed time to figure out what the process was going to be. That’s all. Just taking care of business and looking out after the organization.”
“It was a surprise when Magic turned in his resignation,” Buss later added when asked about the perception that the Lakers have been surrounded by turmoil for most of the offseason. “I didn’t see that coming. But everything else has been pretty much as any organization moves forward and changes going into a new season. So as much as has been speculated as to what the Lakers are doing, to me we are in a really good place and we are following our path, and our plan, going into the next season.”
Buss has moved forward with Pelinka, the team’s general manager, running the basketball operations. She reiterated her full confidence in Pelinka, who orchestrated a trade in agreement with the New Orleans Pelicans for All-Star center Anthony Davis in exchange for the fourth overall pick in last week’s NBA draft, along with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. Buss and the Lakers cannot comment on the trade until it becomes official, perhaps as early as July 6.
“I’ve always had confidence in Rob,” Buss said. “Whatever the speculation that’s out there, we don’t need the outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy, I think we are on the right path, but there’s still more work to do.”
“There’s a lot of changes, Lakers fans be patient,” Buss later added. “We’re going to get there. We will not finish until we are all proud.”
Buss has leaned on Pelinka, Linda Rambis and Kurt Rambis on basketball decisions since Johnson left. Linda Rambis, executive director of special projects, has been one of Buss’ closest confidants and most trusted advisors for the past four decades. Kurt Rambis is a senior basketball adviser who has worked closely with Pelinka.
Buss added some clarity on Linda and Kurt Rambis’ roles in the organization’s decision-making.
“That’s what’s so interesting because they’ve been part of the Lakers, surrounding me,” Buss said. “Linda Rambis and I have worked the exact same way for the last 30 years. Nothing’s changed but for whatever reason, it’s things that people want to hear about. And they’re part of our team and they do a fantastic job.”
Buss, who was at the NBA Awards to support both Johnson receiving a lifetime achievement award and former Laker Shaquille O’Neal as the show’s host, was asked about Johnson’s recent appearance on ESPN’s First Take when he spoke about Pelinka betraying him.
“I can’t really anticipate what he thinks,” said Buss, who made it clear that her relationship with Johnson remains close. “He has to answer those questions. He’s always full of surprises. Like as surprising as it was, it kind of reminded me of back in 1981 when he asked to be traded after winning a championship with the Lakers because he wasn’t happy with the way the offense had changed. And that led us to getting Pat Riley as our head coach.
“So he’s got good instincts,” she continued. “He’s got to stay true to who he is and do what is right for him. I wish I would’ve had a little bit more notice, but I think we are going to be just fine.”
Johnson also said on First Take that he would be interested in buying the Lakers should Buss ever decide to sell.
“I’ve had probably 20 to 30 people actually call and want to buy the team in the last five years,” Buss said. “There’s probably, oh, a billion people who would like to own the Lakers, too. That’s nothing new. It was no surprise. Who wouldn’t want to own the Lakers?”
The Lakers still have more moves to make in free agency as Pelinka pursues more help for LeBron James. Buss says that the expectation entering next season is clear for the Lakers.
“Dr. Buss set the bar high for the Lakers,” Buss said of her father. “There’s the gold standard and then there’s the purple and gold standard. Certainly, we are going to do everything we can to get the best players possible and to get the Lakers back to consistently be at that level. But we got a ways to go and I think we are [heading] in the right direction, but at the end of the day we will be judged by our wins and losses.”
“The goal has always been to get back into the playoffs.”