Mike Bresnahan: What Now?
I've seen some stunning things in the 15 years I've covered the Lakers.
I witnessed Kobe Bryant scoring 81 points on what was supposed to be a quiet Sunday night in January 2006.
I was there when the Lakers lost by a numbing 39 points in front of a jubilant Boston crowd in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals.
I was also there when the Lakers got revenge in a gut-wrenching, slow-paced Game 7 at Staples Center two years later that gave us the iconic pose of Bryant standing on the scorer's table, cradling a basketball as confetti rained around him.
Finally, I was a rookie beat writer for the L.A. Times way back in 2005 when Rudy Tomjanovich quit halfway through his first season as the Lakers' coach. More than four years and $25 million remained on his contract, a staggering amount to walk away from.
I'm not sure, though, that anything floored me as much as Magic Johnson's decision to leave the Lakers in an impromptu press conference Tuesday night.
Sure, their season went asunder almost the same time LeBron James started walking gingerly on Christmas night. Nobody envisioned only 37 victories for this team and another trip to the lottery.
But this was a dream job for the most celebrated Laker of all time.
He wrapped his arms around it the day it was announced, his statement at the time acknowledging a “dream come true” while pledging to “work tirelessly” to return the Lakers to championship status.
Two years and two months later, the job tired him out, he said Tuesday.
He referred twice to being “handcuffed” by the constraints of the job, unable to congratulate Russell Westbrook on a great game or work out during the off-season with Ben Simmons for fear of breaking the league's tampering rules.
He spoke wistfully of enjoying himself more from the outside, as a Laker fan, than the inside, where contract negotiations and daily player evaluations and so many other aspects of the job formed a mountain of minutiae in his mind.
He liked the big-picture stuff, enjoyed recruiting LeBron James last summer. That was fun for one of the most engaging L.A. sports personalities ever. It was also a big win for him.
But in the end, he was too reluctant to tell his boss, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, that he wanted to go back to being the Magic Johnson of old. Like Tomjanovich, he left a lot of years and a lot of money on the table.
It led directly to the question...Now what?
A president of basketball operations needs to be selected before the May 14 draft lottery, which coincides with the start of the week-long amateur draft combine in Chicago.
Two available names immediately came to mind.
David Griffin guided Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship and has obvious familiarity with LeBron James as an executive. He left the Cavaliers and became a broadcaster after he could not work out a new contract with owner Dan Gilbert in 2017.
Sam Hinkie, the architect of “The Process” in Philadelphia, doesn't have Griffin's championship pedigree as an executive and is more nuanced in accruing high draft picks at the expense of individual seasons. The 76ers drafted Joel Embiid and Dario Saric under Hinkie's watch and also ended up with Ben Simmons shortly after he left the franchise.
The Lakers have some time on their hands, but not an eternity. Amid all the tumult, Rob Pelinka is their general manager and, until further notice, Luke Walton their coach.
“As we begin the process of moving forward, we will work in a measured and methodical fashion to make the right moves for the future of our organization,” the Lakers said in a statement Tuesday.
Replacing Magic Johnson this soon never entered the thoughts of the Buss family. A stunning day for the franchise, indeed.