Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka’s union earlier this year as the new figureheads of the wayward Los Angeles Lakers felt like the kind of pivot to video overhaul fans could get behind. Through immaculate double-breasted suits and gleaming smiles, they were going to take a moribund team that has won fewer than 23 games per season over the last four years and revive the Showtime-era flair that the city and franchise had always had in them. And for a while, things were going smoothly; moves were made to remove perceived problem children and open up boatloads of cap space for what promises to be a turbulent 2018 offseason. And in the meantime, they got a unique star in Lonzo Ball, a player who stands out by fitting in—a perfect complement to the stars both Johnson and Pelinka foresee aligning in Hollywood in the near future.
But in a league whose front-office landscape is filled with executives from the Masai Ujiri school of paid dues, it was only a matter of time before the inexperience of the Lakers’ president and general manager would manifest. It seems the time has already come. Over the weekend, veteran journalist Peter Vecsey reported that the Lakers have been probed for tampering by the league through an official complaint filed by the Indiana Pacers regarding their former superstar Paul George. Earlier Sunday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed Vecsey’s breaking news. Impermissible contact between Magic Johnson and the current Thunder star might have occurred while he was under contract with Indiana; according to Woj and Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers are denying the charges.
NBA statement on Pacers and Lakers: pic.twitter.com/k7ZEubrG32— Jessica Camerato (@JCameratoCSN) August 20, 2017
Details are still unfolding, but if the Lakers’ new, dynamic executive duo was going to get its hands caught in the cookie jar for something, it seemed likely that this would be the reason. Magic Johnson’s limitless success past his playing days (let’s ignore the coaching stint and the late-night talk show) has revolved around his identity as a people person. For about two decades, Pelinka served as one of the biggest agents in the NBA sphere, most notably for his time with Kobe Bryant; the kind of chicanery and boundary-stepping afforded in the realm of athlete representation isn’t nearly as permissible on the other side of the divide.
How this affects the team’s efforts going forward is still unclear, but somehow I don’t think either Johnson or Pelinka is too worried. The two were brought in to infuse a sense of L.A. exceptionalism back into the franchise. This is likely just a pothole in their freeway cruise to making the Lakers great again.