Magic Won't Return -- Johnson Will Quit As Lakers Coach

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Magic Johnson won't return as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers next season, the club confirmed last night.

Johnson told reporters before last night's game against Portland that he had made a decision, but would delay an announcement until today in deference to former teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers conducted a ceremony at halftime last night to mark the 10th anniversary of Abdul-Jabbar becoming the NBA's career scoring leader.

The tenor of Johnson's pregame comments appeared to indicate that he wouldn't return. When his agent, Lon Rosen, confirmed it to some reporters later, the Lakers felt compelled to make the announcement in a written statement distributed in the second quarter.

"It's been a tough decision," Johnson said before the game. "I've enjoyed it. This has been great for me, working with 12 guys and trying to get them to understand the Laker tradition."

Johnson said he had not informed the players of his decision before the game, keeping it among his wife, Cookie; Laker owner Jerry Buss and General Manager Jerry West.

"Coaching requires a tremendous commitment of time and energy, so with all that Earvin is trying to accomplish in his life, I readily understand his decision," Buss said in the statement.

Buss and West said they were glad Johnson had agreed to coach the final 16 games of the season after Randy Pfund was fired.

"I am even more convinced now that he would have been a great

coach, and I'm sure our younger players benefited from his tutelage," Buss said.

Johnson said he made up his mind Thursday after talking things over with his wife.

"Whatever happens, life is good," he said, smiling. "One way or another, I'm going to be happy."

Johnson, 34, denied that his wife was unhappy about his coaching, although the job takes away time he previously had spent with her and their young son.

"Cookie is loving it, but there's a good side and a bad side," he said. "She'll be talking to me, and I'll be staring into space, thinking about a play. She'll have to bring me back."

As a player, Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA titles.