LA’s Johnson, Walton clash as season gets off to a rocky start
Frustrated by a rocky start to the season, Magic Johnson met with Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton on Tuesday in a rage.
Johnson, the team’s president of basketball operations, shouted and cursed at Walton, according to multiple sources who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. He asked Walton what he was doing with the team that started 2-5, wanting to see an offensive system in place that had yet to be implemented. At one point he chided Walton for interrupting him.
It was a tense meeting at a low point in the season, but it was not an indication of a pending change.
According to multiple people familiar with the situation, Walton’s job is not in jeopardy. Although Johnson is prone to such emotion, he is not prone to making rash business decisions. Walton has long had the support of Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, and hasn’t lost it as the Lakers go through a rough stretch in the early part of the season.
Walton has also retained the support of LeBron James, a player whose addition to the Lakers has caused speculation about Walton’s future with the team. James has regular communication with Johnson, a person he idolized growing up. But according to people familiar with their interactions, James had nothing to do with Johnson’s demeanor in his meeting with Walton.
“I feel like I have a great relationship with management, yes,” Walton said Friday morning when asked if he thinks he will be given the latitude to be patient. He was then asked if he feels he has job security. “I feel like I’m coming down here to do my job and coach and I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere, no.”
The Lakers are now 3-5. They held on to beat the Dallas Mavericks 114-113 on Wednesday despite losing a 14-point lead in the last four minutes of the game.
Their defense has been a bigger part of the problem than their offense.
They rank third in the league in scoring, averaging 121 points per game with an offensive rating of 112.3, which ranks seventh league-wide. Their pace is the fourth fastest, behind Atlanta, Sacramento and New Orleans.
Johnson’s anger with Walton surprised some in the organization, given Johnson’s insistence this summer that he would be patient through the team’s early struggles.
“As I was talking to Luke, both of us were, we said don’t worry about if we get out to a bad start, we have seen that with LeBron going to Miami and we have seen that when he came back to Cleveland,” Johnson said during a news conference in September. “He is going to struggle because there are so many new moving parts. But eventually we are going to get it and we are going to be really a good team.”
But Johnson’s competitive fire might have emerged during his meeting with Walton. He had just seen the Lakers lose 124-120 to a dysfunctional Minnesota Timberwolves team. Johnson is also part owner of the Dodgers and was just two days removed from losing in the World Series for the second consecutive year.
While the meeting happened on Tuesday, it didn’t become public until Friday morning, when ESPN first reported the story.
The Lakers held a practice session before flying to Portland on Friday afternoon. Walton addressed the report with the team before practice.
“My message to the players was this is what we talked about,” Walton said after Friday’s practice. “We know this is going to happen. Every time we go on a losing streak, there’s going to be stories out there and distractions out there. It’s our choice either to hang onto those or it’s our choice to stay present and focus our energy and time on what we can do to get better.”
Walton added that the meeting was part of his regularly scheduled discussions with Johnson.
“I don’t like to assume that people know what I’m thinking,” Walton said. “So, if I’m talking, I’m going to explain myself no matter what the situation is. But again, the actual things being said, that’s private front office-coach stuff.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton, shown Oct. 20, was shouted and cursed at by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, according to multiple sources.