LOS ANGELES – The month of April is bringing about very strange happenings in the basketball world as Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as the Los Angeles Lakers’ president of basketball operations the same day fellow Dream Team sharp-shooter Chris Mullin stepped down from his beloved St. John’s.
Johnson took the job in March 2017 after the team fired Mitch Kupchak as general manager and removed Jim Buss as executive vice president of basketball operations.
The Lakers were 37-44 entering Tuesday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers. They were 35-47 last season.
Mullin stepped down as St. John’s head coach with speculation falling on Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley as his replacement. Hurley comes with a hefty $2.5 million buyout and at least another $2.5 million in salary expectations for an estimated $12.5 million commitment from a school that has notoriously counted its chips.
“This has been an extremely emotional decision, but after a recent personal loss, I took time to reflect upon my true values and believe this is the right time to make a change,” Mullin said in a statement issued by the school. “I am extremely grateful to the administration, which has supported me and our basketball program on every level.
“I’ve been amazed by our coaches, trainers, managers and staff who work relentless hours, which enables this team to grow and thrive. I’ve been honored to coach the young men who are the heart and soul of this program. It’s a job I will always cherish.”
Mullin’s older brother, Roddy, died from cancer in early March.
Athletic director Mike Cragg issued a statement thanking Mullin.
“St. John’s basketball progressed well during his tenure, culminating with a trip to the NCAA Tournament this past season. Coach Mullin has a deep passion for this program and he has been committed to helping our student-athletes achieve their goals on and off the court, so I know this was not an easy decision. We wish him and his family nothing but the best as he begins this new chapter of his life.”
Mullin went 59-73 at his alma mater, taking the Red Storm to one NCAA Tournament — this season’s First Four, where they lost to Hurley’s Sun Devils. Hurley is “expected to be at the top of St. John’s list” of replacements, according to a Sunday report from Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports.
Hurley is a New Jersey native and has a background with Cragg, who spent more than 30 years in various administrative roles at Duke, his time intersecting with Hurley’s playing days with the Blue Devils from 1989-93.
Former NCAA coach Rick Pitino told the New York Post on Tuesday that he would be interested in the job, but he wants an apology and to be cleared publicly by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Louisville fired Pitino in September 2017, in part because the government alleged Pitino was part of a play-for-pay scandal involving five-star recruit Brian Bowen.
Pitino has maintained his innocence. Now coaching in Greece, he denied to the Post that he reached out to St. John’s on Monday.
“I think the AD is a Duke man and Bobby Hurley was a great Duke player, and I think he would be an excellent choice,” Pitino said.
Hurley is 73-58 in four seasons at Arizona State and 115-78 in six years as a college head coach, including two years at Buffalo.
Mullin, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member, holds the St. John’s record of 2,440 points, set from 1981 to 1985. He went on to a 16-year NBA career in which he was a five-time All-Star.
St. John’s went 21-13 this season but last week lost its top recruiter, Matt Abdelmassih, who joined new Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg. The Red Storm’s best player, junior guard Shamorie Ponds (19.7 points, 5.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 steals), has announced that he will enter the NBA draft.
The departures continued after Tuesday’s announcement. Junior guard Justin Simon (10.4 points per game) hired an agent and announced he was entering the NBA draft, while backup guard Bryan Trimble Jr. has entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal, a source told ESPN.
–Field Level Media