In his first public comments since the Los Angeles Lakers were fined $500,000 for tampering with regard to 2018 free agent Paul George, team president Magic Johnson apologized multiple times, offered to take the penalty out of his own salary and told the Los Angeles Times, “That’s on me.”
“We can’t say a lot but we will correct the situation,” Johnson told the newspaper. “It’s under my watch. I apologize to [Lakers owner] Jeanie [Buss], and that was the main thing. I told her she could take it out of my salary because I don’t want the Lakers to be paying that fine. … I don’t want her spending $500,000, because she didn’t do anything. That’s on me.”
However, the NBA specifically cited in its announcement that “communications by Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka with the agent representing Paul George” led to the team’s violation of anti-tampering rules. Johnson seemed to suggest the fine resulted from his “wink-wink” to George on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in April, even though that merely earned the Lakers a warning from the league.
“This is just on a late-night show being funny,” Johnson added on Monday. “But now I know I can’t do that. We’re OK. I haven’t thought twice about it. We made a mistake. … It’s under my watch. I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
Johnson went on to apologize to Lakers fans, call NBA commissioner Adam Silver “a great friend” who was just doing his job, and remind us that “95 percent” of what the Lakers are doing is “going great.”
The NBA noted last week that their investigation of tampering allegations brought forward by the Indiana Pacers “did not reveal evidence of an agreement or understanding that the Lakers would sign or acquire Mr. George.” The four-time All-Star has repeatedly been linked to the Lakers, even telling ESPN in July, “Of course, I wanted to come home. I wanted to play in L.A. and play for my hometown.”
George told the Pacers in June that he intended to walk in free agency next summer, severely limiting his trade market, and he was ultimately dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis on June 30. Since joining OKC, George has said publicly that, should the Thunder reach the conference finals or beat the Golden State Warriors, “I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
It is widely believed that the Lakers are clearing cap space in an attempt to pursue George — and possibly LeBron James as well — next summer and were unwilling to part with significant assets for the ex-Pacers star in June, in hopes of pairing him with their current crop of talented youngsters.
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