Lakers news: Why Magic Johnson stepping down is the best thing for the Lakers going into next season with LeBron James at the helm
So, Luke Walton has outlast Magic Johnson. Who had that on Vegas bettings? Sure would have made a lot of money on that one. Magic Johnson who less than a month into the season threatened to fire Luke Walton just up and quit earlier today as the lakers were about to play against the Portland Trailblazers in the last game of the season.
Magic gave no specific reason for quitting but hinted at wanting to keep his friendship with Jeanie as the reason for quitting the job, which is extremely ambiguous. His departure is something a section of Laker fans are celebrating (including yours truly, burn me at the stake, but Magic the President was terrible, which has nothing to do with Magic the player). There have been recent rumblings about Johnson’s treatment of Lakers staff and how he might not be the carefree smiling charmer that he appears to be in the media eyes. Sources also say that ESPN was/is working on a story exposing Magic’s treatment of Lakers staff and maybe that prompted him to leave rather than stay and have his legacy tarnished.
Whatever the reason, the end of Magic era is actually a good thing for the Lakers and hear me out on this one. The hiring of Magic and Rob Pelinka highlighted everything that was wrong with the Lakers. They are an organization that is used to their exceptionalism. But that exceptionalism was built, it wasn’t discovered. Dr. Jerry Buss built that by being the most hands-on owner in the league.
This is a team that hired the likes of Riley and Jerry West to run the organisation. They used to hire coaches like Riley and Phil Jackson (before he went nuts) to run the team on the floor. That is why the exceptionalism existed. But the Lakers took their exceptionalism for granted for far too long and this is where that landed them.
Hiring Magic and Pelinka without interviewing anyone else was a culture problem that existed from the Jim Buss era. They just brought in guys with a Lakers history and expected everything else to fall into place. A president and GM are always in the public eye that people forget they actually have a job to do in the background.
Magic and Pelinka had zero experience at their jobs and the worst part is, the Lakers have resources unlike any other team in the league that they an rely upon to actually get the best talent rather than an ex-player who is like family and Kobe’s agent who de-facto becomes family. This is an organization in the modern NBA that refuses to modernize and continues to play it with family. That no longer works.
Johnson and Pelinka landed LeBron (who is currently working on close to 22 shows in LA, so I am not buying that they convinced him to come for basketball reasons) and proceeded to f*ck up the entire roster after doing that. Magic as a president went around guffawing about Paul George and tampering like it was his job description and ended up not getting a meeting with him.
They also whiffed on other aspects like trading away D’Lo, which would’ve been acceptable, had he not taken unnecessary shots at him, by saying he cant be a leader and then signing Lonzo who’s father runs his life pretty much. The meme team was put together and we know how that went. Magic even asked Luke to give more minutes to the likes of Beasley showing what he knew about what a team around LeBron really needs.
Johnson also actively decided to move away from the likes of Brook Lopez who would’ve been a perfect fit for LeBron’s Lakers and also decided against keeping Julius Randle who would’ve solved a lot of the Lakers problems at the Center position where Magic handicapped the team with just one true Center in JaVale McGee who spent over 2 months recovering from pneumonia. The Tyson Chandler signing was supposed to plug the whole but he is too old to carry a team with playoff ambitions.
So pretty much all the things a real PBO is supposed to do and a real GM is supposed to do, are things both Magic and Pelinka failed at. Instead they talked big game on media talking about other team’s players (which directly led to other teams despising the Lakers for their sense of entitlement and is a direct reason for the Anthony Davis fiasco), taking down Warriors, playoffs, signing superstars and taking the Lakers back to glory. Much if that is acceptable if you do the real work behind the scenes, but they proved to be all talk and no action, with what they were saying on screen being the extent of what they were doing behind the scenes.
If you think Luke Walton gets exonerated for his terrible coaching because of this then you are wrong. Walton had the likes of Alex Caruso playing for the South Bay Lakers on a two way contract and never played him in 68 games where both Lonzo and Rondo missed major time, until literally all the starters were shut down for the season. Rondo’s place on the team and his minutes (among the highest amongst all Lakers this season) are a major point.
Rondo is a defensive sieve and a head coach is supposed to realize that quickly, but Walton didn’t seem to get it all season. Just look at the stats. With Rondo on the floor the Lakers defensive rating was ranked 27th in the NBA and in the minutes Rondo was off court the Lakers had a top 5 defense in the league. And yet Rondo kept playing as the Lakers kept piling up the losses.
Johnson as he headed out also took shots at Walton and the information he provided was a telling blow to any ambition Walton may have had of keeping his job. Johnson said that Jeanie had given him the permission to fire Walton and it was due to Walton’s failings to beef up his coaching team despite being given resources to do so.
Up until now Walton apologists were saying that his team (including another long time Laker Brian Shaw) was forced upon him and he didn’t have resources to get more offensive assistant coaches or shooting coaches (both of which he didn’t have), but Johnson’s statements show that Walton had the resources at hand but was either too stubborn or too stupid to get what was needed to improve and develop the players on the roster and the way the team played.
Pelinka was a Johnson hire seemingly and has no qualification to be a GM and if the Lakers select a half decent PBO he will want Pelinka gone and replaced by someone deserving a shot at GM for the storied franchisee with actually a good long term outlook and seemingly unlimited resources.
The Lakers have LeBron James, a good young core, a max contract slot and their own draft pick which falls in the lottery. Add to that their history and ability to pay top dollar and this is a very appealing job unlike the Wizards GM position that Woj (in his ridiculous bias) claimed to be an appealing GM job.
This is a massive summer for the Lakers as they look to rebuild everything all over again. At the center of it all will be Jeanie Buss, whose first hire of PBO might set the tone for how things will look for the rest of the organization. Will Lakers finally go with talent and merit over “Lakers connection”? Will Pelinka and Walton be done away with and if they are, will they again be replaced by people who know how to do their jobs? Will Lakers land another superstar or will they at least recognize that it might not happen, early and get effective role players that will suit LeBron’s game, while getting good staff to develop the young core and hope it all comes together?
It’s a summer of a lot of ifs and the Lakers can either completely reboot and look towards a successful future or make the same mistakes all over again and stay stuck in the culture of mediocrity?
We will have a definitive answer by the end of the summer. We hope. Year after year, summer seems to be the only time Lakers remain relevant. Hopefully this is the last summer that happens. But their past actions give no hope that that might be true.