Retired Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, hired by the NBA club as an adviser to co-owner and president Jeanie Buss, is ready to “call the shots” for the team.
The 57-year-old former guard won five NBA titles in his 13 seasons with the Lakers in a career cut short by his being diagnosed with HIV in 1991. He played in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game and briefly again for the Lakers in 1996 before finally calling it quits.
The Lakers announced last week that Johnson would assist Buss “on all business and basketball matters, collaborating with coaches, evaluating and mentoring players, assessing future franchise needs and helping ownership to determine the best path for growth and success.”
But Johnson told USA Today he hopes his role will be the man in charge as he tries to rebuild a club that has missed the playoffs the past three seasons after winning an NBA crown as recently as 2010.
“Working to call the shots, because it only works that way,” Johnson told the newspaper.
“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? So, we’ll see what happens.”
The Lakers were off to an 18-37 start this season after posting their three worst seasons since moving from Minneapolis in 1960 — 27-55 in 2013-14, 21-61 the following season and 17-65 in the 2015-16 campaign.
But the Lakers have also won 16 NBA crowns, one shy of the record 17 taken by the Boston Celtics.
Johnson’s growing role could herald the departure of co-owner Jim Buss, Jeanie’s brother and the Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations. Jim Buss had said he would resign if the Lakers weren’t a contender by the end of the season — when Johnson says his role will be defined.
“Look, Jim knows where we are, Jeanie knows where we are, as a franchise, and so some decisions have to be made,” Johnson said. “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.”
‘IT’S GOING TO TAKE TIME’
Johnson, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, resigned as an honorary vice president of the Lakers last June. He had previously owned shared in the team, selling them in 2011. Johnson, whose jersey number 32 has been retired by the Lakers, is also a part-owner of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers.
He expects rebuilding the Lakers into a contender will take patience and dedication as well as talent.
“It’s going to take time and we know that,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to fool nobody 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 like that. You have to make some good decisions, you have to make sure we use the money wisely when we have it for free agents and then we’re going to draft well.”
Johnson said he has spoken by phone with first-year Lakers coach Luke Walton and they will meet when the club returns from its current road trip.
“If I was trying to make decisions on the team and not consult with him, it would never work,” Johnson said. “It’s all about coming together and working together, all of us.”