“The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us.” -Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in Moneyball
And then Magic Johnson torched that fifty feet of crap atop the Los Angeles Lakers like he was Daenerys Targaryen.
What. The. Hell.
I’ve run the gamut of feelings during this season: hopefulness, disappointment, anger, disgust, resentment, resignation. But after Magic’s interview with ESPN’s First Take, I just felt sad.
Everything that went wrong in the past two seasons wasn’t all Magic’s fault, but it wouldn’t take long before you wrote his name on that list. LeBron’s lack of dedication to basketball has been bad. Pelinka’s lack of credibility is worse. Monty Williams and Tyrone Lue’s decisions to go elsewhere were embarrassing. Jeanie Buss’ indecisiveness has been mind-boggling. But what Magic did was worse than all of it. Ten times worse.
He blamed the Pelicans for acting in bad faith during the botched Anthony Davis trade. He wanted to fire Luke Walton earlier this season, but said the front office allowed it, then didn’t. And when things got tough, he quit the job without telling Jeanie Buss, someone he considered to be his “sister.” Magic did everything short of blaming the organization for hiring him in the first place.
The Lakers are a business and businesses need someone to close deals. Magic is a great closer. He showed so on the court and in boardrooms. But running an NBA team needs more than what Magic wanted to do. And frankly, the Lakers need someone in the organization to do more than anything that Magic could’ve ever offered.
Los Angeles desperately needs better players to surround an aging LeBron James, (which is another task in itself.) But because of that interview, Magic’s clout with NBA players will only hurt the team’s chances of signing big free agents. Magic Johnson the closer has become the Magic Johnson the cooler.
I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish with that interview. But scheduling it on the same day that the Lakers were set to introduce Frank Vogel as the head coach smacks of vindictiveness and pettiness. Magic casting his blame thrower all over the organization has damaged the team brand. But I don’t think Johnson realized that he’s done far worse to his own.
I started this column with a great quote from Moneyball, but here’s hoping that someone will break out the rest of that line during one of those chaotic Laker council meetings: “We’ve got to think differently. We are the last dog at the bowl. You see what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies.”
Right now, the Lakers are as bad as Donald Sterling's Clippers were and more inept than James Dolan's Knicks are. If they don't want to add their name to that dubious list, then they will have to change the way they do things from the top down. The biggest signing they could make would be a general manager that will be a singular voice among the masses. It needs to be someone who knows the current NBA landscape: the trends, the pratfalls, and where the game is headed. The glory days of Showtime and Kobe/Shaq are a distant memory. They need to find the next generation of Lakers because they way it's going, they'll never win during LeBron's time here. The team needs a patient GM that knows this and will build for beyond the next three seasons.
And hopefully, that person will see what Magic Johnson has done and know to not do it his way...