LOS ANGELES (AP) – Magic Johnson abruptly quit as the Los Angeles Lakers’ president of basketball operations Tuesday night, citing a desire to get back to the simpler life he enjoyed before taking over the franchise just over two years ago.
Johnson didn’t tell owner Jeanie Buss or general manager Rob Pelinka before he stepped in front of reporters about 90 minutes before the final game of the Lakers’ sixth consecutive losing season.
Johnson didn’t directly tie his decision to the future of coach Luke Walton, who was widely expected to be fired by Johnson soon. But Johnson repeatedly mentioned Buss’ affinity for Walton and Johnson’s desire not to cause upheaval between them.
Johnson also says he’s tired of being fined by the NBA for tampering.
Lakers v. Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless hit a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the Portland Trail Blazers secured home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 104-101 victory Tuesday night over the Los Angeles Lakers a few hours after Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as their president of basketball operations.
Johnson shocked the Lakers with his announcement about 90 minutes before tipoff of the last game in the Lakers’ sixth consecutive losing season. The Hall of Fame guard had been in charge of the Lakers for just 26 months, and his departure throws the 16-time NBA champion franchise’s offseason into turmoil even before it began.
Harkless scored 26 points and Enes Kanter had 22 points and 16 rebounds while the Blazers rallied in the fourth quarter to claim their 52nd win of the season. Damian Lillard had 20 points and eight assists while the Blazers wrapped up home court for their first-round series against the Utah Jazz.
Portland has won 13 of 16 in its surge to a sixth consecutive playoff berth.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 32 points and Mike Muscala added 16 for the Lakers, who have missed the playoffs in a franchise-record six consecutive seasons. Alex Caruso capped his incredible late-season surge with 12 points and 13 assists.
Los Angeles still went 6-5 after being eliminated from playoff contention March 22, and its 37 wins are the franchise’s most since that last playoff season in 2013.
LeBron James watched from the bench while a mishmash lineup of veterans and G League regulars improbably maintained a fourth-quarter lead over the talented, ostensibly hungry Blazers.
The Blazers pulled even on a 3-pointer by Lillard midway through the fourth, and Harkless scored five consecutive points to put Portland up 99-97 with 1:21 left. Caruso tied it with two free throws before putting the Lakers up 101-99 on a jumper with 43 seconds left.
Harkless hit a layup with 33 seconds left, and after Seth Curry swiped the ball from Caruso on the other end, the Blazers wound down the clock. C.J. McCollum got the ball to Harkless, who nailed his 3 at the buzzer.
Johnson’s departure represents a major change and an opportunity for the remaining Lakers, whose gifted young core finished the season largely sidelined by injuries.
The Lakers’ final performances of the season suggested they have a significant talent base, and a new general manager could be less likely to get rid of that talent in a trade for a superstar. Coach Luke Walton also was widely expected to be fired by Johnson this week, but Magic’s departure could mean Walton will get another chance after going 98-148 in three seasons.
Trail Blazers: Lillard hit three more 3-pointers, increasing his single-season franchise record to 237. … Curry scored 19 points.
Lakers: They finished the season with seven players unavailable due to injuries: James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson and Reggie Bullock. … Jemerrio Jones had 11 points and 15 rebounds.
Trail Blazers: Host Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.
Lakers: An uncertain future.