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Why Magic Johnson went on national TV to discuss Rob Pelinka’s ‘backstabbing’

Los Angeles Times sports writer Dylan Hernandez and sports columnist Bill Plaschke discuss the hiring of Frank Vogal as head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and Magic Johnson’s new comments on the team.

Magic Johnson went on national television Monday morning to make public his criticism of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and to set the record straight while bringing to light problems that need to be addressed within the Lakers’ organization.

The Lakers’ former president of basketball operations, who resigned abruptly April 9 before the final game of the regular season, said Pelinka’s repeated comments inside and outside the organization about Johnson’s work ethic led the Hall of Famer to step down and that he still thinks the organization can succeed if it works collectively.

Johnson agreed two weeks ago to appear on ESPN’s “First Take” show on Monday, unbeknown to him at the time that the Lakers would schedule a news conference to introduce Frank Vogel as their new coach. Johnson said on the show it was Pelinka he was referring to about “backstabbing and whispering” when he resigned from the job Lakers owner Jeanie Buss had hired him to do two years ago.

“So, that’s who I was talking about when I said backstabber. Just you got to be a stand-up guy, a stand-up person,” Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. “If you got a problem with me or something I’m doing, just come and tell me. So, to get messages around the Lakers organization from different people within the Lakers organization, getting calls from people around the league saying this is what [Pelinka] is saying to people, ‘I’m not working hard. I’m never there [in the office].’ I couldn’t stand for that. …

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“So, yes, everything was true what I said about Rob, ’cause I’m only going to tell the truth. That’s who I am always going to be is a person who will be up front.”

Johnson was asked if Pelinka was the right person for the job now that Buss has empowered Pelinka to make all the basketball decisions.

“We don’t know. How can we say that? Nobody knows that,” Johnson said. “I think he’ll need some help surrounding him, yes. But we don’t know. We don’t know the answer of that.

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“All of us as Lakers fans got to do one thing: We got to support Frank Vogel as the coach. And Rob is in that position, we got to support him — until otherwise. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, fire him,’ because of what happened. No, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is, this is what happened and now let’s make sure going forward these things don’t continue to happen anymore. That’s the bottom line.”

While he was criticized for bashing Pelinka on the same day the Lakers introduced Vogel, Johnson said that was a coincidence and he believed it was necessary to make the appearance on TV.

“Again, I’m about everything being right with the Lakers. I’m never going to do anything wrong or go against the Lakers or go against Jeanie,” Johnson said. “Even right now, I’m not going against Rob, but I’m going to tell the truth. But I’m not against him. I talked to Rob on Saturday. Write that. When he calls in a day or two, I’m still going to talk to him. That’s who I am. I talked to Jeanie last week right before they went to Chicago. I’m going to always talk to the Lakers. Listen, I’m a Laker for life. That’s who I am and I want us to win.”

Johnson said that Buss has too many voices expressing their opinions to her about running the Lakers.

He talked about the roles of Joey Buss, who runs the Lakers’ G-League South Bay Lakers team; Jesse Buss, the Lakers’ assistant general and director of scouting; president of business operations Tim Harris; director of special projects Linda Rambis; and senior advisor Kurt Rambis.

“Tim Harris, you got to run the business. I’m sorry, but you can think you know basketball, but you really don’t, so you have to stay in that lane,” Johnson said. “Jesse, continue to be assistant general manager and a scout, but you are doing a great job as a scout, so continue to do that. Joey, run the G-League, the South Bay Lakers — on and on and on. So whatever role Kurt has, that’s his role. Whatever role Linda has, that’s her role.

“Define roles and then everybody got to stay in that lane. Because what’s happening is there are too many opinions, too many voices and everybody thinks their way is the right way. 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.”

Johnson said he’ll help the Lakers recruit free agents if they want his assistance and that the Lakers “can turn around with one signing.”

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“I’m a Laker for life,” he said. “I’m going to always love Jeanie, and even Rob. Hey, you did these things, but if you ever need help, I’m going to be there to help because I want the Lakers to be successful. I still talk to Rob now. I love the Lakers. I love Jeanie. That’s never going to change. With all this going down, this is my sister.”

broderick.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BA_Turner


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