• Dicky Fung

Bringing the Magic Back to La La Land

Tinsel town is officially back on the NBA landscape as the Los Angeles Lakers has recently hired former Laker legend Ervin Magic Johnson to be the new President of Basketball Operations. This was not shocking as Magic hinted since he was hired as an “advisor” earlier in the month he wanted to ultimately call the shots of all basketball operations involving the Lakers.

Should the City of Angels be celebrating? Are the Lakers officially back in the discussion to be a premier landing spot for future free agents? Is Magic even the right man for the job? Championship contending team in “3-4 years?”

Let’s pump the brakes.

Magic is without a doubt, a Laker legend. A 5-time World Champion, who was the main reason how “Showtime” Lakers was developed. He was the motor and key to what was one of the best teams ever assembled in league history with the likes of Kareem, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper. However, his talents in the NBA as a player did not translate to success as a Head Coach in 1993, where he held a mediocre 5-11 record. Surely, Magic admitted it was never his desire to coach a team anyhow, as he had sights on coming out of retirement. Point being, Magic being a hall of famer doesn’t mean he will be successful in running a franchise. Look at New York.

The timing, in what was expected to be a very busy trading deadline, Jeanie Buss actually went ahead and fired Mitch Kupchak and her brother Jim Buss, relieving their titles as General Manager and President of Basketball Operations. Magic Johnson officially got his wish and went on to make his first official move; trading former 6th Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets.

Lou Williams was a professional during his tenure, and he was great for the Lakers. Oddly enough, Lou Williams was so good he averaged the most points (18.6) on the team while only playing 24 minutes per night. He was key to the Lakers 19 wins this season. He was never in the Lakers future plans as they want to focus on the development of young promising players like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram. However, Lakers knew this day would come so he was being showcased all season long. This move was perfect for the Lakers even if they did not get equal talent on paper, as they received Corey Brewer and a first-round pick from the Rockets in this year’s draft. Draft picks are becoming more valuable in today’s NBA, evident to teams around the league seeking draft picks as a blueprint to rebuilding a successful franchise. Despite the pick being in the high 20s, let’s not forget the likes of Rudy Gobert (#27 overall in 2013) and Jimmy Butler (#30 in 2011) to name a few, were drafted late in the first-round. Truth be told, the message from the front office was Lou Williams was actually helping the Lakers win too many games, jeopardizing their chances of retaining the top-3 protected pick from Philadelphia this June.

Not only did Magic make his impact felt immediately, he also endorsed the Lakers to hire Rob Pelinka to become the General Manager for the Lakers. Perhaps Magic knows the story on how Bob Myers went from being a sports agent to now a General Manager for the Warriors. Maybe he is intrigued by the idea how Myers had no management or scouting experience was key to morphing the Warriors into a championship juggernaut.

Rob Pelinka is a long-time sports agent for stars that included Kobe Bryant and James Harden. Pelinka has extensive relationships with executives and players all around the league. His relationship with Kobe and the Lakers throughout the years is just another dynamic in his already impressive resume.

Magic has said all the right things, and he was right stating that the Lakers was following an old, outdated blueprint from the 90s to run an organization. Magic knew the NBA today is an entirely different animal. RC Buford, Pat Riley, Jerry West, Sam Presti, and Bob Myers were names he mentioned to taking a page out of their book in attempt to bring Lakers success.

The truth is, the NBA did change. Many teams rely around the 3-point shot. Many teams love to run and play at a faster pace. The traditional back to the basket big men are near extinct, and the successful teams all have great talented point guard play, with key guys being able to play multiple positions. Have we ever seen a 6’11 “point guard’ in Giannis Antetokounmpo? Have we seen a talent like Karl Anthony-Towns, a big-men who is able to move and handle like a guard, while also being able to block shots and extend his range to the 3-point line? The NBA has changed and developed players into playing differently.

The Lakers were stuck in an era in which they were so successful in, forgetting how quickly they have fallen off the NBA map. The popular thought of Los Angeles being a premier destination for free agents faded quickly as Lakers were exposed by LaMarcus Aldridge in summer of 2015 that they wanted to promote endorsements and sunny weather instead of basketball. They couldn’t even land interviews with a player like Hassan Whiteside last offseason, let alone Kevin Durant. This was the longest stretch in Laker history in which they did not make the playoffs. Something had to give, someone had to take the blame. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.

With Magic determined to make the Lakers great again, Lakers fans has something to be excited about. However, it won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen quickly. Needless to say, it might not happen at all. It is not easy running an organization, and it would be foolish to think Magic can turn it around instantly. It started off great, but let’s see how the Lakers fortune turn by this time next year before we get too excited.

At the very least, things should be looking up for the purple and gold. With new management finally hitting the reset button, Staples Center just might be attractive again. A young, up-and-coming coach in Luke Walton, whom many players are fond of around the league is a start to what could be key in recruiting process. Landing another top 3 player in this draft will also help tremendously as what most is saying a very talented and deep 2017 draft class.

With reports coming out of Indiana that the Pacers are gauging the market of All-Star Paul George, what will Magic do? Would he have dealt Brandon Ingram to the Kings for DeMarcus Cousins had he been hired a day earlier? How much patience does he have in his young stars? Will the key core of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Brandon Ingram be enough to make the Los Angeles Lakers on top of the NBA reigns? These are questions and decisions Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will have to decide as they hold all the cards for the Lakers. History will say the Lakers always climb back into NBA contention, let’s find out if Jeanie Buss made the winning move.

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