Just as he intended, Magic Johnson’s tirade against his head coach (Luke Walton) was exhaustively reported, dissected, praised or dissed. His nuclear meltdown about the Lakers offense and their inability to resemble anything close to a half court team as they are running and gunning and racking up points struck a Magic nerve.
Yes, he has unrealistic expectations for second and third year players who are still learning what is a good shot when the game is on the line and what is a hero shot when the game is on the line.
Magic can yell and scream until his face is blue but that isn’t going to make Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma better at half-court execution. Playing and losing close games will ramp up the learning curve a tremendous amount but then Magic knows that. He knows his roster. Magic was being theatrical. On purpose.
A day earlier, LeBron James told reporters his patience was running out. The rapid response to LeBron whining was this is what you signed up for dude. Take the bitter with the sweet. When James chose to join inexperienced players under the age of 24 he was going to get the smorgasbord: bad shots, stupid turnovers, missing defensive assignments with a punch thrown in there for good measure.
LeBron hasn’t lit the NBA on fire either. His free throw shooting when it counts has been ugly. James late game turnovers have added to the Lakers woes meaning he is part of the problem too. His frustration was comical considering on media day he lectured the press corp about adversity and hanging together during cataclysmic lulls. He couldn’t do the exact thing he was preaching about. And what about LeBron telling us it would take months to develop chemistry, much longer than “we” think. Be careful what you predict.
Despite the front office temper tantrum, the Lakers have done some great things on offense this year. They are potent. 1st in fast break points, 3rd in scoring and pace, 4th in field goal percentage and assists, 5th in steals, 7th in offensive rating. The offense that makes Magic Johnson see red is well oiled after 8 games. But the Lakers can’t execute in the last three minutes when half court basketball is required.
- LeBron James in the 4th quarter is shooting 42%.
- Kyle Kuzma in the 4th quarter is making 18% of his threes.
- Josh Hart in the 4th quarter is shooting 33%.
- Brandon Ingram in the 4th quarter is making 25% of his threes.
- Lonzo Ball in the 4th quarter is shooting 39%.
The reason the Lakers cannot win games is that in the 4th quarter’s tense moments they don’t have anyone who can be trusted to make shots. LeBron James doesn’t have the Kobe/MJ thing going on where he just takes the game over by himself and forgets his teammates. LeBron is going to be LeBron and share. The kids are looking weak while LeBron is waiting for them to be tough.
It’s not a shock the Lakers are third from last in 4th quarter points at 25.1. However, it’s a stunning reversal considering the Lakers are third in 1st quarter points, second in 2nd quarter points, 6th in 3rd quarter points. They are failing the 4th quarter with LeBron James.
Magic wants more half court. His temper tantrum provided cover for a front office move. Tyson Chandler will join the team as a back up center. That was part of the problem in the 4th quarter. Kyle Kuzma is no one’s back up center and undrafted surprise Jonathan Williams is only 6-9.
The Lakers lack length and Chandler in a limited role gives them that. JaVale McGee has balled out so far. He has been the Lakers most impressive player. But he needs help. When he goes out the game, it is a layup line to the rim, particularly since the Lakers lack perimeter defenders. Someone has to protect the paint. Chandler still is a body with footwork, a seven footer who understands angles.
Does it mean the Lakers are a playoff team? No. Not yet. But the season is still young with everyone expected to get better by the 25 game mark, at least that is what Luke Walton hopes happens in order to save his dream job.
There is precedent. Last season, the Utah Jazz were 7-11 and made the playoffs. They won 48 games. Despite Magic’s hysterics and histrionics, all is not lost.
But as Yogi Berra once said, it’s getting late early