The last time Magic Johnson made these many mistakes he was in the NBA Finals. It was 1984 and against the despised Celtics Magic fell apart. How bad was it? Kevin McHale, in response to Magic coming up small, referred to him as Tragic Johnson.
In Game 2, Magic dribbled out the clock and didn’t get a shot off. The Lakers lost in overtime. In Game 4, there was a Magic turnover with seconds left and he missed two free throws in overtime. In the dramatic Game 7, he had seven turnovers.
Great players are human but they are supposed to be perfect in the biggest moments. The next season Magic made up for it and won a ring, and added two more in 1987 and 1988. Failure forgotten.
Forgetting this season’s failure won’t be as easy because Magic is trying to prove he can build a team when he has never built a team. As a player, he was the last piece, an elite talent on a veteran team. He is trying to do the reverse. Develop young players with a singular elite talent, one who is aging.
When Magic failed in the 1984 Finals, he was already a two-time champion. As a team president, he has seen the Lakers in the lottery again and again. He is trying to stay afloat amid raging waters and much of the blame going his way.
“Magic Johnson dropped the ball by letting the speculation become public and not meeting with the team sooner.” Charles Barkley.
The Anthony Davis trade disaster wasn’t the first time Magic failed but it was a gigantic swing and miss. The Lakers needed Davis and they couldn’t get him and Magic was supposed to fall on his sword. Show some humility and accountability. He didn’t.
Like in 1984, Magic had too many turnovers. It was his loss to take and playing the defiant one to his players didn’t go over well, it only pushed them deeper into the brink of despair. They needed a leader to unite them. They are kids. You can argue that this generation of millennials are babied and it is true, a lot of them are, but it doesn’t excuse Magic from meeting his team where they are. Instead, he was as much of a hardass as Byron Scott was when he coached a young Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell.
Magic began the job of team president in Feb of 2017 and it was an auspicious start. The Lakers didn’t have a first round draft pick and he traded Lou Williams and Corey Brewer at the deadline to get one. He then traded D’Angelo Russell for an additional first round pick and netted Kyle Kuzma. However, he drafted Lonzo Ball instead of De’Aaron Fox. After the Davis disaster, he traded Ivica Zubac for Mike Muscala (30% as a Laker). Not to mention his one year contracts of Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson prevented him from re-signing Julius Randle and Brook Lopez, even after Luke Walton pleaded with him. Randle and Lopez were necessary, Randle especially.
Randle played hard every possession and his motor is his gift. His professionalism sets him apart from the immature younger player. Randle had earned a multi-year deal with the Lakers but it would have prevented the Lakers from signing a Davis-like player. The logic makes sense except…Magic could have signed Randle and if the trade came down for Davis, he could have packaged Randle in the deal.
Julius Randle is having a monster season. 21 points, 9 rebounds. He’s made more threes this year than every season before this year combined. Randle has a better free throw percentage than any front court Laker except Kyle Kuzma. His 21.0 PER is career high. He’s shooting 55% in the 4th quarter and 44% on threes. And the Lakers gave him away for free.
Before Magic took over, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were teammates. Magic pushed both out the door. One is an All-Star. The other is having a season that will get him a fat paycheck come summer. Not to mention Magic intentionally bruising the egos of Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.
Magic loves to remind all of us about the legendary leadership of Dr. Jerry Buss. Dr. Buss was a people person who loved his team and treated them like family. He delivered what he promised. Magic has delivered too but not promises. Just two seasons of a whole lot of horrible.