Column: Magic Johnson as part of Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard free-agency pitch is a strange fit

Magic Johnson navigates past media members after announcing on April 9 that he was stepping down as Lakers' president of basketball operations.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The idea doesn’t exactly seem, um, magical.

So when the Lakers attempt to woo Kawhi Leonard next week, one of their pitchmen is going to be … Magic Johnson?

“Come join the team, it’s a great place to work, except, well, I don’t actually work there anymore. A couple of months ago, I couldn’t take the chaos, so I quit.’’

So for maybe the most important recruiting effort in team history, the Lakers are going to have to rely on … Magic Johnson?

“You’ll love playing for us, just be careful around one of your bosses, guy named Rob Pelinka, he’s a backstabber.’’

The Lakers forced to use Magic Johnson to sell their front office is like a realtor trying to sell a house with a brochure that includes testimony from a former owner who once tried to burn it down.


“You’ll like owner Jeanie Buss, a strong leader. I call her my sister, although I didn’t call her before I quit. She didn’t have a clue!’’

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In news first reported by The Times’ Broderick Turner on Friday, it was revealed that Leonard’s team has specifically asked Johnson to be part of the Lakers’ sales team when they pitch Leonard early next week at the beginning of the NBA’s free-agent signing period. The NBA told the Lakers that Johnson can’t be part of an official meeting because, since he quit, he has been actively advising players on other teams. So he will engage in a private meeting that will clearly have great influence.

That’s a scary thought for Lakers fans, and one wonders if Leonard wasn’t encouraged to make the request by the Clippers.

“You know that Frank Vogel character? Could be a good guy, nobody knows. I purposely ruined his introductory news conference.’’

Johnson is the greatest Laker ever and a local icon. But his first retirement as a player occurred in the same year Leonard was born. In trying to convince the star to leave the Toronto Raptors and not stray to the Clippers, Johnson’s hero factor surely will be outweighed by his histrionics factor.

How is Leonard going to believe a Lakers’ sales pitch by a guy who walked away from the Lakers on the final day of the regular season — less than three months ago — because he didn’t like the work environment?

“What I didn’t like was the backstabbing and whispering,’’ Johnson said at the time. “I didn’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on.’’

How is Leonard going to be convinced to work for Pelinka when he was later cited by Johnson as being the devious co-worker?

“So that’s who I was talking about when I said ‘backstabber,’”Johnson confirmed later to The Times. “I couldn’t stand for that. So, yes, everything was true what I said about Rob.”

And how is Leonard, who clearly values calm and purpose, going to be sold on an organization that Johnson said was rudderless?

“What’s happening is there are too many opinions, too many voices, and everybody thinks their way is the right way,’’ Johnson said. “That’s why you can’t make good decisions because you got six, eight voices and everybody thinks their strategy is the right one. You can’t have that.’’

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Johnson made those last comments barely a month ago, on the same day Vogel was being introduced as the Lakers’ head coach, effectively casting a shadow on what should have been a rare positive moment.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are going to join in the Leonard recruiting effort at some point, and that will help, but everyone knows who has a louder voice than both of them combined, and Johnson is apparently the only Laker specifically summoned by Leonard.

True, Johnson was given credit last summer for successfully recruiting James, but that required little more than a quick visit to a guy who had already made up his mind. And remember, Johnson actually worked for the Lakers at the time.

This is a much different deal. This will be a much stranger deal. With no official ties to the team, with an ax still to grind, with his dangerous impulsivity on display as well as his immense charm, can anybody guess what Johnson will say? And if he’s all positive, won’t that reek of the sort of insincerity that the plain-spoken Leonard supposedly abhors?

“I will help the Lakers anyway that I can,’’ Johnson told Turner on Friday. “I love the Lakers and just want to do what’s best for the Lakers and Jeanie Buss.”

He truly believes that. Good luck selling it.

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