photo by Charmeljun Gallardo
Up is down. Black is white. Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria. And the Lakers are the joke of the NBA.
In a shocking turn of events, Magic Johnson stepped down as President of Basketball Operations before the Lakers last game of the season (which they then lost.) “The Magic couldn't come out,” Johnson told the L.A. Times. “I want go to back to … just having fun. I just want to be Magic and free and not be handcuffed. I knew if I stayed in the role, I'm giving up a lot of me.”
This wasn’t the way this fairy tale was supposed to end. Magic was supposed to bring his magic back to Los Angeles. Free agents were supposed to run, not walk to Magic’s door and beg for the opportunity to wear the purple and gold. LeBron James was supposed to be the straw that stirs the drink. And all the young talent the Lakers have amassed was supposed to follow the "King" into the playoffs. Instead, just like his short coaching stint, or his awful talk show, Magic's reign was all a delusion.
Everything that Magic Johnson touched turned to lead. After the Lakers signed James this last summer, Magic asked the fans to be patient. Their plan was in two parts, he said. And the plan was to come to fruition in the 2019-2020 season. That patience last exactly seven games into this season. Magic Johnson ripped into Luke Walton and since then, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the two haven’t spoke to each other since. They missed out on big free agents. Players they let walk flourished elsewhere. Players they brought in were bad fits. They botched trades. Every Laker of significance got hurt. And even when they came back, they were ineffective, lost, or disinterested.
Being the President of Basketball Operations requires someone who's a grinder, not a figurehead. It isn’t about glad handing and being a personality. It’s about doing the work. This job needs someone who will look around every corner and under every rock to find talent anywhere on the planet. It could mean going to games in college, the G-League, a broken down arena in Lativa, or a smelly high school gym. That’s what made Jerry West so great. That’s what makes R.J. Buford (San Antonio’s GM) have lasting success. Magic simply wasn’t willing to give that level of dedication to the Lakers. He is a very successful businessman with several other matters that rightfully need his attention. I completely understand that. But if that was the case, then Magic never should have accepted the job. He may have actually done the right thing here, but even his exit was a major screw up. How do you not even tell your owner, whom you say you love? Or your GM, whom you consider as a business partner?
Now it’s up to Jeannie Buss to right this capsized ship. Her job, first and foremost, will be to find a real President/GM. I don’t know this will mean for Rob Pelinka, but I can’t imagine that his seat is very comfortable. Luke Walton was Buss’ pick to be the coach. And she stood by him while Pelinka, Johnson, and probably LeBron, wanted someone else. But even Walton’s future in is the air. All of the veterans they signed in the summer were on one-year deals. And once again, the Lakers will have plenty of cap space for free agents. But who wants to go to this mess? By all reports, free agents are more enticed by what the Clippers have than the Lakers.
Yes, the Laker Nation. The Clippers are the most desirable basketball destination in Los Angeles. For you Stranger Things fans, we are in the Upside Down.
If the Lakers want to regain their place as the NBA’s crown jewel, then they will have to reinvent themselves. They’ve missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. They can’t use their storied history as leverage anymore. Players are more sophisticated in their thinking. They want to see that the front office is smart, that they have a clear plan, and they can execute. It’s not what they’ve done, it’s all about the now and the near future.
But for now, the joke is on the Lakers. And fans around the league, especially in Boston, are all having a hearty laugh...