Lakers coach vows to build unity after Johnson outburst

New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel (right, with general manager Rob Pelinka) believes that forging a sense of unity would be crucial as he attempts to halt six years of not making the NBA play-offs. PHOTO: REUTERS
New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel (right, with general manager Rob Pelinka) believes that forging a sense of unity would be crucial as he attempts to halt six years of not making the NBA play-offs. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • The Los Angeles Lakers were ready to unveil their new head coach Frank Vogel on Monday. It was a good opportunity for some upbeat talk, a fresh start after a disastrous season.

Then Magic Johnson went on television.

In a startlingly frank interview on ESPN's First Take show, Johnson, who abruptly resigned as team president last month, painted a picture of dysfunction at the Lakers and openly accused the storied National Basketball Association (NBA) team's general manager of stabbing him in the back.

"I started to hear Magic's not working hard enough, Magic's not in the office," Johnson said, identifying general manager Rob Pelinka as the person speaking badly about him.

"I didn't like those things being said behind my back. If you're going to talk about betrayal, it's only with Rob. I wasn't having fun going to work, knowing that you want my position.

"I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball, saying those things now were said to them... Not just in the Lakers' office any more. Outside of basketball, in the media and so on."

At Vogel's unveiling, Pelinka insisted he had enjoyed working with Johnson.

"It's disheartening to hear he believes a misperception," Pelinka said, adding that the accusations were "simply not true".

"My job is to not worry about what other people may say or think about me as a person."

Pelinka joined the Lakers in 2017, shortly after team owner Jeanie Buss essentially fired her brother, Jim, and general manager Mitch Kupchak. Pelinka had been one of the top agents representing NBA players, including Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

Making the shift from agent to general manager would have been unthinkable in the past, but it is now more common in sports as the relationships between executives and a cadre of elite players became increasingly important.

Johnson's comments were surprising because as president of the team, he was Pelinka's boss.

For the Lakers, the management shake-up has so far failed to pay dividends. They started the season with high hopes after acquiring LeBron James. But the team had a dismal 37-45 record, and coach Luke Walton left at the end of the season.

Vogel believes that forging a sense of unity would be crucial as he attempts to halt six years of not making the play-offs.

"We need to build togetherness with our organisation," the former Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic coach said. "I don't just mean with the 17 guys that are going to be in uniform. I'm talking about organisational togetherness.

"Starting with ownership to the front office to the coaching staff, to the players to the trainers, the business side. We are all going to be pulling in the same direction. You can accomplish amazing things if everybody is together."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2019, with the headline 'Lakers coach vows to build unity after Johnson outburst'. Print Edition | Subscribe