IT COMES DOWN TO MAGIC

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS -

Los An­ge­les Lak­ers turn to Magic John­son in shakeup of team.

LOS AN­GE­LES — The Los An­ge­les Lak­ers fired gen­eral man­ager Mitch Kupchak on Tues­day and put Magic John­son in charge of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions in a ma­jor shakeup of the strug­gling fran­chise’s front of­fice.

Lak­ers owner Jeanie Buss also re­moved her brother, Jim, from his job as the Lak­ers’ ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions.

Jeanie Buss then pro­moted John­son, the Hall of Fame point guard who re­turned to the fran­chise ear­lier this year in an ex­ec­u­tive role. John­son is the Lak­ers’ new pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions, re­port­ing di­rectly to Jeanie Buss.

Jeanie Buss made the ex­tra­or­di­nary moves two days be­fore the NBA’s trade dead­line. The Lak­ers are 19-39 this sea­son, plum­met­ing out of con­tention af­ter an en­cour­ag­ing 10-10 start un­der new coach Luke Wal­ton, who got a strong vote of con­fi­dence from Jeanie Buss.

In a state­ment, Buss said she “took a series of ac­tions I be­lieve will re­turn the Lak­ers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss de­manded and our fans rightly ex­pect,” re­fer­ring to her fa­ther, the late Lak­ers owner.

“Our search for a new gen­eral man­ager to work with Earvin and coach Luke Wal­ton is well un­der­way, and we hope to an­nounce a new gen­eral man­ager in short or­der,” Buss added. “To­gether, Earvin, Luke and our new gen­eral man­ager will es­tab­lish the foun­da­tion for the next gen­er­a­tion of Los An­ge­les Lak­ers great­ness.”

Kupchak has been the 16-time NBA cham­pion fran­chise’s GM since 2000, when Jerry West left the club. Kupchak had been in the Lak­ers’ front of­fice for 30 years, in­clud­ing the last 17 as gen­eral man­ager — the long­est cur­rent stretch run­ning a front of­fice in the NBA.

Jim Buss had been in the Lak­ers’ front of­fice for 19 years, in­clud­ing 12 in charge of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions along­side Kupchak.

The Lak­ers are mired in the worst four-year stretch in fran­chise his­tory. They fin­ished 17-65 last sea­son, a fran­chise low in the last year of Kobe Bryant’s two-decade run with the fran­chise.

John­son’s re­turn made Jim Buss’ de­par­ture seem quite likely, par­tic­u­larly given Jim Buss’ vow sev­eral years ago to leave the fran­chise if they weren’t in con­tention for a Western Con­fer­ence ti­tle by this year or next.

John­son has never been a de­ci­sion­mak­ing NBA ex­ec­u­tive, but he has been a suc­cess­ful busi­nessper­son and in­vestor since his play­ing ca­reer ended. He briefly coached the Lak­ers, but dropped his cer­e­mo­nial ti­tle as a vi­cepres­i­dent last June af­ter his fre­quent crit­i­cism of Jim Buss and for­mer coaches. He sold his own­er­ship stake in 2010.

The de­par­ture of Kupchak is even more dra­matic. The for­mer Lak­ers cen­tre had worked with Jerry West and Jim Buss in rel­a­tive har­mony for years with the tra­di­tion-bound Lak­ers.

The Lak­ers’ re­cent in­ep­ti­tude didn’t hurt their place as Los An­ge­les’ most beloved sports fran­chise, but Jeanie Buss tired of the ap­par­ent lack of progress. The Lak­ers have a tal­ented young core with D’An­gelo Rus­sell, Julius Ran­dle, Bran­don In­gram and Jor­dan Clark­son, but haven’t been able to trans­late that po­ten­tial into wins de­spite play­ing an ex­cit­ing style un­der Wal­ton.

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