Magic Johnson, the Lakers front office, and the case for being optimistic


As the news trickled down my timeline early on Thursday about the Lakers bringing on Magic Johnson in an advisory role, admittedly, my first thought was one of joy and optimism. I was eager to see what a successful businessman and one of the greatest to ever step foot on a basketball court could bring to a franchise still finding it’s way during a rebuild.

I quickly realized I was in the smallest of minorities.

I like to consider myself a person with an even-keeled, mild-mannered temperament. Sure, I get excited and frustrated, but I always try to not let the highs get too high and the lows get too low, especially when it comes to sports.

As a Minnesota Viking fan, I’ve realized that you have to appreciate the highs when they’re around and look for the positives when things aren’t going great. In the current climate of the Lakers, finding positives in recent years has been hard.

When fans turned on Lou Williams last year, I tried to see where he was successful and offer some optimism. When Larry Nance put together a strong run of games in the Summer League and had fans clamoring for him to become the Lakers’ starting power forward, I tried to remain positive about what Randle could bring to the table. And when fans were clamoring for Nick Young to be waived and stretched all summer, I joined in (alright I’m not perfect).

I pride myself in trying to remain rational, if not even a little naive at times. Thus, when today’s news came about, I looked at what the positives could be from such a move.  If the Lakers are bringing in Magic Johnson as an advisor, certainly there are things to look at and be excited about.

However, I quickly saw a large majority of Lakers’ Twitter taking multiple steps in the other direction, and with some fair points. The move was regarded as another sign of the Lakers living in the past, an argument I can see the basis for. It was fairly seen as a warning shot toward Jim Buss, whose (silly) self-imposed timeline is set to expire this summer.

But what I saw was a different outlook on Magic joining the Lakers.

Most notably, I think Laker fans have failed to take into account just how much power a person seen as an advisor would have, especially with regards to basketball decisions. Many have seen Magic Johnson the Twitter persona and struggled to separate him from Magic Johnson the human being and successful businessman.

Do I think Magic’s hiring is the first in a series of moves that will lead to Buss’ firing and him stepping into the same role? Absolutely not. Buss’ future will be determined but just how serious he and the Buss family are about the promise he made years ago to have the Lakers contending for titles, not whether Magic Johnson advises Jeanie Buss to force him to step down. None of that is to even mention the logistical issues of owning the Dodgers while potentially running the Lakers.

And whether or not Buss should step down this summer (he shouldn’t) is an entirely different debate that will not be discussed here.

Do I think Magic’s hiring will have a drastic or even noticeable impact on the basketball decision-making? Absolutely not. The Lakers opened themselves up for plenty of criticisms based on decisions made in the post-Phil Jackson Era. However, beginning largely with the drafting of D’Angelo Russell, the team has begun adapting to the modern NBA.

The hiring of Luke Walton. The increased staff for the analytics department. The embracing of positionless basketball. The repeated patience in allowing a young team to develop rather than cashing in a handful of prospects for one superstar. All those things happened under the current regime led by Mitch Kupchak and Buss. And none of that is going to change because of a newly-hired advisor, even if it is Magic Johnson.

Instead, we should look at some of the positives this signing could bring to the table. Johnson’s roles included “collaborating with coaches” and “evaluating and mentoring players.” You need not look further than the post-game quotes to see and hear the excitement a team of young players who grew up watching Magic Johnson having known now the possibility of working with the legend.

Magic’s arrival doesn’t mean that free agents are suddenly going to line up to play for him, but it does make him an involved member of a front office that has either struck out entirely on free agents or landed a meeting before watching it blow up in their face.

None of this is to even mention the business acumen of Johnson, who is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of half-a-billion dollars, depending on which Google search and website you trust. It’d be foolish not to reach out to someone with that much success and is so closely connected to the franchise.

What Magic can provide is a freshness to a Laker front office that has been considered dull and boring for too long. He can be a mouthpiece for a front office that has long had reserved personalities like Buss and Kupchak hide from the spotlight. He can provide a different insight and a different voice from the current ones.

And it may turn out that this move was the wrong one. We are only 13 months removed from his very strong remarks on Jim Buss and it’s fair to assume his mind likely hasn’t changed in just over a year.

It’s also fair to give Magic a chance. Like seemingly any move, story or rumor regarding the Laker front office, the immediate reaction is one of hysteria. In this scenario, Magic’s tenure was seemingly doomed to fail before it’s even began.

It may turn out just turn out that this is a success. Maybe Magic, Jim and Mitch are able to set aside whatever differences they may have for the betterment of the Lakers, a love they all have in common.

I, for one, will hope for the best and look to have an optimistic outlook. It’s the only way I know how.

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