Sacramento Kings

‘I wanted to fire Luke Walton:’ NBA legend Magic Johnson tells why he quit Lakers job

Kings coach Luke Walton led six NBA prospects through a pre-draft workout Monday at the team’s Golden 1 Center practice facility, but he did not address the sexual assault allegations against him or Magic Johnson’s latest remarks.

Walton’s name was back in the headlines after Johnson mentioned him in a candid and wide-ranging interview on ESPN’s “First Take.” Johnson called out Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and said the organization’s handling of Walton was the last straw in his stunning decision to step down as the team’s president of basketball operations.

Johnson accused Pelinka of going “behind my back” to tell people he was “not working hard enough.” He went on to mention Walton, who compiled a 98-148 record in three seasons as the Lakers coach.

Johnson told ESPN he wanted to fire Walton, but Lakers owner Jeanie Buss was reluctant. Johnson abruptly quit before the last game of the season, stepping in front of a media scrum to make the announcement without notifying Buss or Lakers star LeBron James.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was I wanted to fire Luke Walton,” Johnson told ESPN. “We had three meetings. I told (Buss) things he did well and things he didn’t do well, and I said listen, ‘We’ve got to get a better coach.’

“I like him. He’s great, former Laker, the whole thing. So, the first day (Buss) said, ‘Well let’s think about it.’ The second day: ‘Ok, you can fire him.’ Then the next day: ‘No, we should try to work it out.’

“So, when we went back and forth like that, and then she brought (Lakers chief operating officer) Tim Harris into the meeting (and) some other guys, and Tim, you know, he wanted me — he wanted to keep (Walton) because he was friends with Luke. Luke’s a great guy. A great guy. And so when I looked up and said, ‘Wait a minute, I really only answer to Jeanie Buss, and now I’ve got Tim involved,’ I said it’s time for me to go.”

Johnson resigned April 9. Walton wouldn’t last much longer anyway amid all the acrimony and infighting in Laker Land.

Three days after Johnson resigned, the Lakers announced they had mutually agreed to part ways with Walton. That cleared the way for the Kings to hire Walton, who had been at the top of general manager Vlade Divac’s wishlist for three years.

Walton has not spoken publicly since the Kings introduced him as their new head coach April 15. A week after that news conference, former Southern California sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant filed a civil lawsuit alleging Walton sexually assaulted her while he was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. The Kings and the NBA later announced they had launched an independent investigation into the allegations.

League sources have told The Bee that Divac, Walton and the rest of the basketball operations staff would continue to work together pending the results of that investigation. Walton was seen sitting between assistant general managers Peja Stojakovic and Ken Catanella during Monday’s pre-draft workout.

The team has not discussed Walton’s first four weeks on the job or the organization’s efforts to assemble a coaching staff around him. Walton talked with the prospects following the workout, but he was not made available to the media.

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