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Column: Magic Johnson returns to the Lakers and change is on its way

According to a release on the team website, Johnson’s duties will include collaborating with coaches and evaluating and mentoring players. (Feb. 3, 2017)

With the return of an antique, the remodeling can now officially begin.

Jeanie Buss has brought Magic Johnson back into the room, and everything on the Lakers suddenly looks new again.

Johnson was hired as an advisor to Buss on Thursday in an announcement designed to begin the process of reshaping the upper reaches of a basketball operation that has been burdened by mistakes and grown stagnant with failure.

Since the death of legendary owner Jerry Buss nearly four years ago, the Lakers have been anything but Magic, but with the arrival of Johnson, that is all about to change.

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Management will change. The free-agent climate will change. The number of kids on the roster will change. Who knows, maybe even some of their worst records in franchise history will change.

It’s not that Johnson has the proven expertise to sign or trade or shape an NBA roster. It’s that he has the presence, and now the power, to clear the path for somebody who does.

Certainly, he’s impulsive in his thoughts, sometimes reckless in his words, and Johnson even surrendered his honorary Lakers vice president post last summer because his statements were causing so much confusion. He has had little impact as part of the Dodgers ownership team, is often distracted by his other business interests, and never seems to be in one place for more than five minutes.

But make no mistake. His heart has always been with the Lakers, his home has always been with the Lakers, and while he might not be the answer, he certainly should know how to find it and nurture it.

Jeanie Buss has a Jim Buss problem, and Johnson will fix that. She has a Lakers national perception problem, and Johnson can alter that. She’s tired of the losing, and, while the basketball team will remain firmly in the hands of the promising Luke Walton, the basketball culture will only be strengthened with Magic’s touch.

It was written here recently that Jeanie Buss had finally begun pondering a serious spring cleaning of the front office. Spring just arrived early, and Lakers fans should be chirping.

“We are thrilled and honored to add Magic’s expertise and abilities, and I look forward to working alongside him,’’ Jeanie Buss said in a statement announcing Johnson’s return.

The key to that statement is that she, alone, will work alongside him. Clearly, her brother will not.

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More than anything, Johnson’s return marks the accelerated end of Jim Buss’ bleak reign as the Lakers’ executive vice president of basketball operations. Jim Buss gave his family a timeline for success that runs out this summer, but it’s hard to imagine him lasting in his current job past the final day of the season.

The hirings of Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, coupled with the refusal to bring back Phil Jackson, add up. The failed free-agent attempts at everyone from LaMarcus Aldridge to Carmelo Anthony to even Greg Monroe add up. The inability to find a future despite having three top-seven draft picks in the last three years adds up.

It’s time for Jim Buss to retreat back into a comfortable ownership position, and now Jeanie Buss won’t have to actually dirty her hands by pushing him there, because Johnson will do it for her.

And, believe it, he’ll do it.

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Johnson would have done it on several occasions in recent years, as he has constantly ripped Jim Buss on radio, television, Twitter, and in this newspaper.

One time he said, “I don’t believe in Jim Buss... “[He’s] trying to do it himself, trying to prove to everybody that this was the right decision, that, ‘My dad gave me the reins.’ And he’s not consulting anybody. I don’t have [a relationship with Jim Buss].’’

Another time he said, “[Buss] should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner. You’ve got to get somebody to help [Buss] out. Just play your role. There’s nothing wrong with being a great owner.”

Then there was the time Johnson said, “He’s got to quit trying to prove a point to everybody that he can do it on his own, get his ego out of it, and just say, ‘Let me get someone beside me to help achieve the goals I want.’’’

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At one point during their feud, Jim Buss fired back through USA Today, saying, “Magic Johnson going nuts on me? It’s like, ‘Really, dude?’ My dad made you a billionaire almost. Really? Where are you coming from?’’

Johnson, of course, was always more than willing to explain where he was coming from.

“Just say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake,’’’ Johnson said of Buss. “He’s always put it on somebody else. He’s mad at me because I criticize him. Then he’s like, ‘Magic is trying to get a job with the Lakers, Magic is trying to bring me down.’ No, I’m not. I’m telling the truth about the situation and trying to make us better and trying to get us in a winning situation in terms of being relevant…Quit blaming and pointing the finger at everybody else instead of pointing the finger at yourself.’’

So, yeah, it’s hard to see those guys working in the same El Segundo office suite.

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It has long been thought that Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak were a package deal, but Johnson has always been a Kupchak fan, once saying, “If I were Jim, I would say, ‘Mitch, you run the show.’ I think it would be a lot better for the Lakers, too. Mitch Kupchak knows what he’s doing. He’s great. He’s smart.’’

Johnson would probably recommend keeping Kupchak as an advisor while leading the search for a fresh new voice to run things. Johnson will also hopefully attend everything from pitch meetings for free agents to occasional practices.

No matter what Magic Johnson does, Jeanie Buss is finally bringing the Lakers into a new era, and it’s comforting to see a familiar face leading the fastbreak.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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