Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss intends to let her front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka make the decision on whether to retain embattled coach Luke Walton after the season concludes, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.
Buss has been one of Walton's staunchest allies during his three seasons in L.A. However, his working relationship with Johnson and Pelinka has not been as close. It has been "weeks" since Walton had a meaningful conversation with Johnson, according to team sources.
In an interview with the Sports Business Radio Road Show last week, Buss compared Walton to her former fiancé, Phil Jackson, who won five championships with the Lakers.
However, she stopped short of advocating for him to keep his job following the Lakers' disappointing season, which wraps up against Portland on Tuesday night.
"I will always defer to Magic," Buss said.
That comment was seen by Lakers insiders as foreboding with regard to Walton's future with the team because Buss had been Walton's most consistent public and private advocate. It was Buss who tweeted #InLukeWeTrust after the coach was repeatedly criticized by LaVar Ball last season. And it was Buss who met with Walton last month, on the team's flight home from Milwaukee, to talk through the challenges he has faced this season.
Walton's relationship with Johnson and Pelinka has never been as warm, according to team sources.
Walton, 39, was hired by the Lakers in April 2016 after a successful stint as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors under Steve Kerr.
The former 10-year veteran, drafted by L.A. with the 32nd pick in the 2003 NBA draft, played for the Lakers for eight-plus seasons, winning two championships. He was brought in as coach when Jeanie's brother, Jim Buss, and general manager Mitch Kupchak were running the front office. Less than a year into Walton's time on the sideline, however, Johnson and Pelinka were hired to replace the previous regime.