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In a momentous organizational shake-up, the Los Angeles Lakers fired General Manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday and put Magic Johnson, one of the greatest players in N.B.A. history, in charge of the team’s front office as its president for basketball operations.
It was a stunning power play by Jeanie Buss, the team president and co-owner, who removed her brother Jim from his role as executive vice president for basketball operations. Jim Buss will retain his ownership stake, Jeanie Buss said in a statement, but will no longer have any involvement in personnel decisions.
“I took these actions today to achieve one goal,” Jeanie Buss said in the statement.
“Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself,” she continued, using Johnson’s given name. “We are determined to get back to competing to win N.B.A. championships again.”
She added that a search for a new general manager — one who would report to Johnson — was underway. Johnson has been involved with the organization in various capacities for decades but has no direct experience actually running a team. In a statement, he described his new position as a “dream come true.”
He added: “We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to N.B.A. champions.”
But the Lakers, a marquee franchise that has foundered in recent seasons, have a long way to go before they will be capable of vying for a playoff berth, let alone be considered title contenders. In their first season under Walton, their record is 19-39, the third worst in the league. They have not made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season, the longest such drought in franchise history.
Hours after the overhaul was announced, the Lakers traded Lou Williams, their leading scorer, to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and a future draft pick, according to The Associated Press.
Johnson, 57, a three-time most valuable player during his Hall of Fame playing career with the Lakers, has maintained associations — both official and unofficial — with the team since he retired in 1996. (He did not play for four seasons, from 1991 to 1995, after he learned that he had H.I.V.) He briefly coached the Lakers during the 1993-94 season, but they went just 5-11 with him on the bench.
Johnson, a successful entrepreneur outside basketball, owned a share of the Lakers from 1994 to 2010 and after that retained a position as honorary vice president. But last year, after Johnson continued to run afoul of the league’s tampering rules for posting on Twitter about free agents, the Lakers stripped him of that title. He remained a fierce advocate for the team — and an occasional critic, known in part for his close association with Jeanie Buss and his estrangement from her brother.
The siblings’ turbulent relationship is one of the league’s long-running soap operas. In 2014, Jim Buss told The Los Angeles Times that he would step down if the team failed to make a playoff run within three years.
About three weeks ago, Johnson returned to the team as an adviser to Jeanie Buss in a move that appeared to signal that more organizational changes could be coming. On Tuesday, two days before the N.B.A.’s trade deadline, Buss cleaned house. She even fired John Black, the team’s longtime communications director.
It is a drastic overhaul of a team that has been characterized by considerable stability in the general manager’s position. Kupchak was in his 17th season in control of player personnel, since taking over for another Lakers Hall of Famer, Jerry West. Kupchak, along with Coach Phil Jackson, was largely responsible for assembling the Lakers teams that won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
More recently, however, the Lakers have been hindered by a series of ill-conceived moves, including a failed experiment in 2012 to build a superteam around three aging and mismatched pieces: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
The Lakers were also limited in their ability to rebuild after signing Bryant to a huge contract extension in 2013. Last season, in what amounted to a glorified farewell tour before Bryant’s retirement, the Lakers finished with a franchise-worst 17 wins.
In Johnson, the Lakers turn to their storied past in hope of a brighter future.