Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss finally broke her silence about the state of the organization while walking the red carpet before the NBA Awards in Santa Monica on Monday.
In her first interview since Magic Johnson stepped down as the team president, Buss said his decision caught her off guard, but that their relationship will “be fine.” She also expressed support for embattled general manager Rob Pelinka.
“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”
Members of the media were not the only ones criticizing Pelinka.
Johnson resigned on April 9, the date of the Lakers’ final game this past season. When he did it, Johnson alluded to “backstabbing and whispering” as part of why he was no longer happy doing the job. Johnson conducted interviews on the same day the Lakers introduced new head coach Frank Vogel, and he identified Pelinka as the source of the backstabbing and whispering.
“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”
Johnson resigned without telling Buss or anyone else in the organization. It was a move that rattled LeBron James and Buss alike.
“As surprising as it was, it kind of reminded me of back in 1981 when he asked to be traded after winning a championship with the Lakers because he wasn’t happy with the way the offense had changed,” Buss said. “That led us to getting Pat Riley as our head coach. He’s got good instincts. He’s gotta stay true to who he is and do what’s right for him. I wish I would’ve had a little bit more notice but I think we’re gonna be just fine.”
Johnson also said that he’d be interested in buying the Lakers, a comment that caused some to wonder if he was questioning Buss’ stewardship.
“There’s probably like at least, I’ve had probably 20 to 30 people actually call and want to buy the team in the last five years but there’s probably, oh, a billion people who would like to own the Lakers, too,” Buss said. “That’s nothing new. It was no surprise. Who wouldn’t want to own the Lakers?”
Since Johnson’s departure, many have speculated about the rise in power of Kurt and Linda Rambis. Linda Rambis has been Buss’ confidante and coworker for four decades. Kurt has had an on-again-off-again history with the organization and was hired last summer as an advisor. He was a major part of the Lakers’ coaching search.
“They’ve been part of the Lakers , surrounding me,” Buss said. “Linda Rambis and I have worked the exact same way for the last 30 years. Nothing’s changed but for whatever reason there’s things people want to hear about. They’re part of our team and they do a fantastic job.”
There was one subject on which Buss couldn’t comment due to NBA rules: the Lakers’ pending trade for Anthony Davis. League rules stipulate that teams can’t comment on it until it becomes official.
“I can’t say names,” Buss said. “… I think that there’s a lot of changes that have happened with the Lakers but all with the goal of getting back into the playoffs.”
Times columnist Arash Markazi contributed to this story.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli