LOS ANGELES — Hours after Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as the Los Angeles Lakers’ president of basketball operations, and mere minutes after LeBron James’s first season as the franchise cornerstone ended with a buzzer-beating loss, James left Staples Center on Tuesday night without speaking to reporters, trailed only by security officers and questions about the team’s future.
It was not the season anyone envisioned for the Lakers, who had upended the N.B.A. by signing James last summer with the hype and expectation of returning the franchise to its glory years. One of the most storied teams in the league, the Lakers have not won a championship in nine years, and Los Angeles is frustrated, hungry and impatient.
Instead, the team collected nearly as many injuries as losses. James, who will miss the N.B.A. playoffs beginning Saturday for the first time in 14 years, watched the final six games of the season from the bench as the team looked to preserve him for next season. His next buzzy stop is a studio lot as the star of “Space Jam 2,” which he has said is set to begin filming this summer.
For the Lakers (37-45), all the drama was off the court, right up to the end, with Johnson’s abrupt announcement so out-of-the-blue that he had not even told his boss, the team owner Jeanie Buss, before wading into a gaggle of reporters.
[Here is a look at Magic Johnson’s biggest moments as team president.]
On Wednesday morning, Johnson, 59, wrote on Twitter that he considers himself a “Laker for life.”
He announced in 1991 that he was H.I.V. positive but said Tuesday that he was in good health and it was not a factor in his decision.
Johnson had sealed a $154 million, four-year deal for James — two greats fulfilling their needs: Johnson to restore luster to a glamorous team; James to close out his career as a Laker and develop his business and entertainment interests centered on Hollywood.
And now they both left Staples Center with a losing record and a team in chaos.
In some ways, it was the perfect finale to a season that trafficked in dysfunction.
So there was the coach, Luke Walton, saying what losing coaches always say: essentially, wait until next year. His job may have been saved when Johnson quit, but he would not talk about that.
“We have a lot of time to work and get better,” Walton said late Tuesday after the Lakers’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. “Let’s organize and prioritize what we need to do so we can give ourselves a better chance next season.”
It was a wasted season for everyone involved, and James is as polarizing as ever, even in Los Angeles, where as much as fans banked on him, they also retained a degree of skepticism that this was all real.
Jonas Never, a prominent Los Angeles-based street artist, found that out the hard way.
“Honestly,” Never said in a telephone interview, “Lakers fans are the trickiest