When Jeanie Buss made the sweeping move to relieve her brother Jim and then-general manager Mitch Kupchak of their duties and promote Magic Johnson to president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, it was met with optimism.
After years of futility, the franchise — and its fans — again had reason for hope. The front-office overhaul continued with the hiring of Rob Pelinka as general manager.
But there was more turmoil when Jim and Johnny Buss staged what appeared to be an attempted coup to remove their sister from power. Once that was resolved, the franchise pressed forward.
The Lakers are seemingly poised to bounce back from failed free-agency pitches the past few summers. Of course, there are no guarantees.
And despite an improved roster with intriguing young talent, the Lakers are hardly the destination spot of years and decades past. Nonetheless, the duo of Johnson and Pelinka represent hope.
Johnson for his charisma, and Pelinka for his longstanding relationships with players, general manager and team personnel from his days as an agent.
However, aside from the inherent challenge of needing to restore the franchise to its lore, Johnson and Pelinka must now attempt to succeed under the shadow of a legend who’s suddenly stepped into their own backyard.
Yes, the Clippers, even with their recent surge of success, have been unable to overcome a second-round hurdle in the playoffs. And sure, some might argue they are still the Clippers. But just as Johnson and Pelinka represent hope for the Lakers, Jerry West does the same with the Clippers.
It doesn’t erase the Lakers history and suddenly make the Clippers the team in Los Angeles, but the timing of West’s decision is what makes it gut-wrenching.
With both franchises seemingly at a crossroads this summer, it’s difficult to deny the Clippers do not hold a superior hand. They’ve enjoyed better success than the Lakers over recent seasons and now have an X-factor.
Not to mention, there’s also the likely scenario of West luring his son and promising Lakers scout, Ryan, to the Clippers as well.
The usually-private West publicly expressed a desire to return to the Lakers. His services, apparently, were not deemed necessary or needed.
That flies in the face of what Johnson has preached and practiced. Whether in personal business dealings, or roles with the Dodgers or Lakers, Johnson has placed an emphasis on hiring personnel who are capable of helping him succeed.
West’s list of accomplishments need not be repeated. It’s a track record that speaks for itself. Even after relinquishing a role as GM, West has been championed as a key figure in a front office.
It’s plausible Johnson and Pelinka were sensitive to adding someone of West’s stature to the fold. After all, this is a front office that still needs to establish itself. Perhaps West would have received more credit than is due if or when the Lakers made a marquee move.
But Johnson has not been one to put his ego above the success of the group. To have possibly drawn a line in the sand in this case is curious.
The Lakers may not feel an immediate impact — or repercussions — from West joining the Clippers. The summers ahead, however, when notable players are making free-agent decisions, could tell a different story. Just ask Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.
By then Johnson and Pelinka would have had time to improve the roster and organization’s allure. But if the Lakers continue to be an afterthought, Magic may regret passing on the opportunity to say Showtime with West.