Less than one week before 2018 NBA free agency began, Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson made a jarring promise. Aware of the expectations the Lakers faced this summer and next, Johnson said he would step down instead of Jeanie Buss needing to fire him, if he failed to sign at least one marquee free agent.
The Lakers had of course been down that path before. In April 2014, Jim Buss, then in charge of the team’s front office, said he would re-sign if the Lakers were not a championship contender within four years.
Buss didn’t get to see his entire timeline through, as Jeanie fired her brother and then-general manager Mitch Kupchak in February 2017. Johnson and new general manager Rob Pelinka were hired to turn the franchise around, hence Johnson’s remark.
In an interview with Jim Hill on CBS 2 Los Angeles, Jeanie shared her reaction upon learning of Johnson’s declaration:
“I was concerned when he said that. But I also knew that whether it was through free agency, the draft, through trades, that the team that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were building, was going to be a good team.”
While free agency began on a negative note because Paul George, long viewed as a heavy Lakers lean, immediately announced he was re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, any concern or disappointment was quickly erased.
On the same night George’s intentions became official, LeBron James announced he would sign with the Lakers. Johnson and Pelinka went on to fill out their roster with gritty veterans, and have drawn plenty of praise from Buss for the quick turnaround since they took over.