Neophyte President of Basketball Ops for the Lakers is finding the road a little bit rough. Magic Johnson has already been fined for tampering. He traded away an All-Star (D’Angelo Russell) who he berated after Russell was in the skies, on his way to Brooklyn. He got fleeced into picking Lonzo Ball instead of De’Aaron Fox. He lost his cool with Luke Walton, a meeting that went public on his behalf, to let everyone know he wasn’t happy and he is running things. But, um…how good is he at running things?
Magic took over for Mitch Kupchak and is hoping to undo everything Kuphcak staked his reputation on, developing young players. As early as yesterday, the New Orleans Pelicans had a deal on the table that would have netted them 5 Lakers players, an excessive haul.
Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, plus two draft picks were part of the package. In essence, Magic was willing to gut his team for Anthony Davis, who is a talent for sure, but someone who is always injured, hasn’t led a team anywhere, and has a measly one playoff win on the resume.
Magic was willing to fleece his own young players because he has stars in the eyes when it comes to All-Stars. He was one, so he can only see that kind of talent which, frankly, makes up less than 1% of the NBA.
The Denver Nuggets have one of the best records in the league without the type of player Magic Johnson covets. They drafted well and their picks developed into great (Nikola Jokic), and very good (Jamal Murray, Gary Harris). They signed a max free agent (Paul Millsap) who isn’t a top-15 player but has been to the playoffs every year of his career, resonates toughness, and competitive fire. So no Magic, you don’t need a glamour player to win.
What makes the entire Magic debacle astounding is that he took the job not realizing how every other organization despises the Lakers. No one despises the Warriors. They might find Joe Lacob insufferable but the Warriors did it the right way. They drafted Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and developed them within a system that fits their talents. Only after developing, did they take a run at Kevin Durant. But first they had a system.
No one hates the Celtics. Danny Ainge got rid of his aging stars, collected a heap of draft picks, and chose the right lottery picks, while setting up a division rival with a Markelle Fultz damaged goods gift basket.
No one hates the Spurs. The Spurs are respected for the system they run and the players they find to fit that system.
No one hates the Mavericks. Mark Cuban mismanaged a team that won a title, was a sexual harassment enabler, but Cuban was a gamechanger when he entered the league, a young billionaire who infused the league with ideas, energy and modernism.
It’s the Lakers everyone hates and you’d think Magic Johnson would have spent 5 minutes being reflective.
Number 1: The Lakers steal everyone else’s players. The only legends the Lakers have drafted are George Mikan, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, James Worthy. The rest have come through Los Angeles because other teams mismanaged the draft, aka Bob Bass dealing Kobe Bryant, or teams in financial disputes with players (see Shaquille O’Neal), or Los Angeles being the draw (Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, LeBron James).
Number 2: They have a financial advantage. Their television station creates revenues no other team can match. The Lakers don’t have to win to make a huge profit. While everyone else is treading water, they are swimming shore to shore and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2013.
Number 3: Check the top 5 scorers in NBA history? 4 of the 5 played for the Lakers, Jordan being the only exception. When LeBron enters that rare air, he can say the same.
Number 4: The Lakers are lucky. They have missed the playoffs 5 years in a row. But before that, they missed the playoffs 5 times in 56 seasons. They have been in the WCF 41 times.
How could Magic not know that the league’s GM’s will do anything to keep another superstar from getting to Los Angeles. It’s one thing if the players go ala LeBron in free agency. But to force your way there like Kareem (and like Anthony Davis is trying to do) is gut wrenching for teams who don’t have that kind of privilege.
Magic has been a winner all of his life. After retirement, his business success has reshaped his biography to more than a basketball player. But, he is out here playing checkers while the league is playing chess. He is showing his hand and how desperate he is for a superstar. He just can’t cool his jets.
News alert: Anthony Davis isn’t the beginning and the end of the NBA, is a far cry from the logo. He has a long way to go to surpass Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone.
Never let them see you sweat used to be the superstar player’s go to move. Someone remind Magic Johnson of that.