LA’s John­son, Wal­ton clash as sea­son gets off to a rocky start

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY TA­NIA GAN­GULI AND BROD­ER­ICK TURNER Los An­ge­les Times

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.”

MAR­CIO JOSE SANCHEZ AP

Lak­ers head coach Luke Wal­ton, shown Oct. 20, was shouted and cursed at by pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions Magic John­son, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources.

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