Magic Johnson: Jim Buss is running the Lakers, not Mitch Kupchak
These are uncomfortable days for the Lakers, who can't avoid drama or the glare of the spotlight yet again.
Magic Johnson said in a conference call Wednesday that Lakers executive Jim Buss, not General Manager Mitch Kupchak, was making the important decisions for the franchise.
"It's not Mitch's situation anymore. Mitch isn't running the team. Jim Buss is running the team," Johnson said. "Mitch has to follow the direction of Jim Buss and what he wants. I wouldn't say Mitch is the problem. He's going to do his job."
Mitch Kupchak has been in the Lakers' front office for 25 years but Buss has gradually been handed more power over the years by his father, team owner Jerry Buss.
Johnson said Jim Buss should meet personally with Kobe Bryant because the 14-time All-Star "just wants to be informed as a leader and future Hall of Famer and a guy who has brought five championships to the Lakers."
"He wants more communication, probably like he did when [former Coach] Phil Jackson was there and he worked well with Mitch. I don't think Kobe feels he has that type of relationship or the communication has been there with Jim. What probably has to happen is they need to sit Kobe down and sit Jim down. Dr. [Jerry] Buss was the master at taking you to lunch or taking you to dinner and going over what he was thinking and what he wanted to do with the team. Jerry West was good at that as well. Kobe, Mitch and Jim just have to get on the same page and things will be OK."
When asked if he would meet with Jim Buss, Bryant responded Wednesday, "Um, perhaps."
Johnson praised Bryant for airing his frustrations about the front office's unclear plans with four-time All-Star Pau Gasol.
"I'm proud of Kobe for being a good teammate and being a good leader and voicing his opinion," said Johnson, who sold his 4.5% ownership stake in the Lakers two years ago but remains on the team payroll as a vice president.
On Wednesday, Bryant clarified why he challenged the front office.
"Nobody else is going to say it, man," Bryant said after the Lakers' shoot-around in Dallas. "I'm the only one with [courage] big enough to say it, so I said it."
Bryant also discussed the brief, informal discussion among Lakers players after their victory Monday against Portland.
"I wouldn't have called it a team meeting," he said. "After the game, guys talked, D-Fish got up and talked, said a couple of words, and that was about it.
"It was just us understanding that we reached the midway point of the year and we really have to lock in on what we have to do and stay focused on ourselves and not let any outside distractions, be it trade talk, be it criticism or whatever the case may be, interfere with what we have to do as a group, as a cohesive unit."
Derek Fisher, Bryant said, was "the one that calls the meetings and does most of the emotional speaking."
Bryant also weighed in on the Lakers' first trip back to Dallas since getting swept here in four games in the Western Conference semifinals last May. The teams play each other Wednesday at American Airlines Center.