The Los Angeles Lakers front office over the past few years has been established as a confusing place with plenty of missteps and ulterior motives.
However, as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes reported on Tuesday, it was also a toxic work environment for the lower level staffers in the organization, especially when it came to their interactions with former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka:
According to nearly two dozen current and former team staffers, ranging from occupants of executive suites to office cubicles, in addition to league sources and others close to the team, the Lakers under Johnson and Pelinka were fraught with dysfunction, on and off the court. These sources, who feared reprisal and weren’t authorized to speak publicly, describe Pelinka and Johnson as managers who made unilateral free-agent acquisitions; triggered a spate of tampering investigations and fines; berated staffers, including Walton; and created an in-house culture that many current and former longtime staffers said marginalized their colleagues, inspired fear and led to feelings of anxiety severe enough that at least two staffers suffered panic attacks.
As one ex-Lakers star privately told confidants, “It’s f—-ng crazy over there.”
In the office, the staffer apologized and later, off site, began to cry, according to multiple people with knowledge of the incident. In the months ahead, she would suffer increased anxiety and panic attacks. She was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, quit the Lakers after more than two decades with the team, and began several weeks of therapy, multiple people familiar with the matter said. She gave her notice on Dec. 18, 2017, the same day Kobe Bryant’s two jerseys were retired.
A Lakers executive said he also suffered panic attacks and had to be prescribed anti-anxiety medication. “Every day you go in there and you get this horrible feeling of anxiety,” the executive said. “In the last year, I can’t tell you how many panic attacks I’ve had from the s— that has happened there.”
Johnson and Pelinka evidently tried a lead by invoking fear approach from the beginning of their tenures with the Lakers, with Magic reportedly informing staffers that they were replaceable if they made any mistakes at his introductory meeting. Add to that the duo’s unwillingness to listen to the experts in the organization about draft and free agency decisions and it becomes clear that they both wanted unilateral power.
This, of course, goes beyond basketball and is a major issue for the franchise, if it is true (and at this point, there’s no reason to believe it isn’t). Considering Jeanie Buss’ previous comments about mental health, it is absurd that the franchise has allowed such a toxic environment for employees to exist. Team staffers should never have to work with fear of their supervisors or suffer panic attacks as a result.
Magic stepping down is basically a patchwork fix for this issue but Pelinka seems to be in the same mold. And the Lakers’ inability to create any semblance of stability will likely only result in more similar issues moving forward.
Forget free agency. If the Lakers are going to poach the brightest minds out there to be on the team’s coaching, training, scouting or analytics staffs, they are going to have a hard time hiring them in this type of environment.