Magic Johnson: Jim Buss is running the Lakers, not Mitch Kupchak
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."
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.
One reporter asked if Dallas dinged the Lakers' mystique last season.
"It's tough to put a dent in mystique with all of them [championship] banners," Bryant said. "They had a great year last year. They kicked our butts, that's for darn sure. But we're going to be back at it. We're middle of the pack right now but we have aspirations of being there again in June and seeing this team in the playoffs."
Can the Lakers do it with their current roster?
"Yeah, we can, but we've got to be damn near perfect," Bryant said.
Johnson thought otherwise, saying the team needed to make "one or two trades" before the March 15 deadline.
If the Lakers don't pull off a trade and Jim Buss doesn't communicate with the organization, Johnson remains pessimistic about the Lakers' championship hopes.
"They can compete for the Western Conference championship," said Johnson, who predicted the Miami Heat would win the NBA title. "But if they don't [make a trade], I don't think they'll compete. I think Oklahoma City is better. San Antonio is also playing better than the Lakers right now."
Bryant talked further about Lakers Coach Mike Brown, who has been questioned by some players about his substitution patterns and lack of rest between games.
"It's a constant learning process for him, coming to a group that we know how to play so well together and so forth," Bryant said. "We have certain things that are habitual for us, whether it's pre-game routines and other stuff. They seem shocking to him: 'How the hell did you win championships doing this stuff?' But it works for us. It's just a matter of him kind of getting used to it. He's doing it."
Bryant declined to elaborate.
Brown said he was pleased that the Lakers talked after Monday's game.
"I think it's great," he said. "If they have them in the future, to me I think that's a big positive, but I also do not need to know what they talked about in there."
The state of the Lakers represented one of many topics Johnson discussed.
He reflected on the upcoming 20th anniversary of the 1992 NBA All-Star game, significant for reasons beyond winning the All-Star MVP after scoring 25 points in the West's 153-113 victory. Before that season began, Johnson announced his retirement because he had HIV, but he returned to the All-Star game after fans voted him in as a starter.
ESPN's hour-long documentary, "The Announcement," airs March 11 and focuses on Johnson's sobering announcement nearly 20 years ago that he'd retire from the Lakers after contracting HIV.
-- Mike Bresnahan and Mark Medina
Photo: The Lakers brain trust: Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and Jerry Buss. Credit: Noah Graham / NBAE / Getty Images