The Los Angeles Lakers were ready to unveil their new head coach, Frank Vogel, on Monday. It was a good opportunity for some upbeat talk, a fresh start after a disastrous season.
Then Magic Johnson went on television.
In a startlingly frank interview on “First Take” on ESPN, Johnson, who resigned as team president last month, painted a picture of dysfunction at the Lakers, and openly accused the team’s general manager of stabbing him in the back.
“I started to hear Magic’s not working hard enough, Magic’s not in the office,” Johnson said, identifying the person speaking badly about him as Rob Pelinka, the team’s general manager.
“I didn’t like those things being said behind my back,” Johnson said, adding that he had been warned that Pelinka would act that way.
“If you’re going to talk about betrayal, it’s only with Rob,” he said. “I wasn’t having fun going to work, knowing that you want my position.”
“Somebody’s got to be the leader, there’s too many voices,” he said of the Lakers front office.
There was no immediate response from the Lakers.
Pelinka joined the Lakers in 2017, shortly after team owner Jeanie Buss essentially fired her brother, Jim, and the general manager Mitch Kupchak. Pelinka had been one of the top agents representing N.B.A. players, including Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
Making the shift from agent to general manager would have been unthinkable in the past, but it has become increasingly common in sports as the importance of relationships between executives and a small cadre of elite players has become increasingly important. Johnson’s comments were surprising because as president of the team he was Pelinka’s boss.
For the Lakers, the shake-up in management has so far failed to pay dividends. The Lakers started the season with high hopes after acquiring LeBron James. But the team was a dismal 37-45, and Coach Luke Walton left at the end of the season.
Johnson said Monday that he agreed Walton should go, but he wanted a different new coach, Tyronn Lue, who the Lakers considered before opting for Vogel. “Vogel is a good coach, but Lue is better,” he said.
Johnson, a Laker legend as a player, insisted he was still rooting for the team and supporting Vogel.
Johnson abruptly quit the team presidency last month, not even telling owner Jeanie Buss in advance.
“I gave everything I had to get the Lakers in the right direction,” he said Monday.
“If the Lakers were up for sale tomorrow I’d be running up to Jeanie saying let me buy them,” he said.
He also said, with a laugh, of rumors that the Lakers would consider trading James: “That’s not going to happen.” He also said he believed the team would win a title with James.