When Magic Johnson was hired as President of Basketball Operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, countless articles were written about the legitimacy he’d add to a desperate organization. The take was so pervasive, you think his smile had personally cured those writing these articles of some kind of sickness.
Now, the Lakers sit just above the NBA’s basement, the father of the face of the franchise is waging war via headlines with the head coach (arguably the other face of the franchise), unrest in the locker room has reportedly outlasted the team meeting and oh, by the way, the Lakers don’t have their first-round pick this year.
Upon first arrival to the organization, you could barely go a few days without some new appearance from Johnson to talk about the Lakers’ bright future and the great plans he just could wait to set in motion.
Now, when the Lakers most need him, he’s unavailable.
He won’t be available to media. We asked. https://t.co/9OVJt0EzoK
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) January 8, 2018
Johnson should have known what he was getting himself into. If things were going well, there wouldn’t have been job openings at the top of the organization. The Lakers haven’t sniffed a .500 record in four seasons before this one, and it isn’t like this year’s going all that well, either.
To this point, Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been good for some quirky press conferences, the D’Angelo Russell trade, and silence in the face of LaVar Ball’s criticism.
That needs to change.
Say what you will about his tone, but Mitch Kupchak understood when it was time to make an appearance, even if it was to merely say nothing. You could accuse him of several things, but hiding was not one of them.
Magic needs to live up to the promise those aforementioned articles about his smile made. He must address the rumors about just about everyone on this roster being available via trade and the unrest that might have created. He has to support his second-year coach, who is tasked with dealing with the conditions Johnson’s plans might have caused. He needs to declare that LaVar Ball’s criticism has less of a chance of leading to any changes in the franchise than anyone who bought a pair of those $500 shoes being happy with that decision.
When Johnson and Pelinka were getting ready to draft Lonzo Ball, some wondered whether an organization headed by an owner getting ready for her first year in a new role, a front office headed by two people with zero job experience and a second-year head coach would be stable enough in case LaVar Ball acted up. To this point, the answer to those questions is a pretty resounding negative.
That can all change if Magic steps up and does his job.
In a vacuum, the situation is already fairly desperate. But you also have to keep in mind what the Lakers are trying to do. This season is an extended audition (albeit from afar) for the services of LeBron James, Paul George or any other superstar Magic will try to entice this summer — or earlier, as per the tampering charges that cost the Lakers a record $500,000.
James’ Cleveland Cavaliers just got Isaiah Thomas back and will head into yet another postseason as the favorite to come out of the east. George’s Oklahoma City Thunder started this season slowly, but since December 1, they’ve been playing some of the best basketball across the entire league. Even DeMarcus Cousin’s New Orleans Pelicans would be in the playoffs if they started today. Yet somehow, those guys are going to leave winning situations to saddle themselves with the burden of an organization stuck in the mud and a front office that hides when the going gets tough?
To quote the great philosopher Darius Soriano: “Nah.”
Magic Johnson’s stardom and infectious charisma got him this job. It’s easy to be all smiles and positive quotes when things are going well. He had to know the Lakers would probably struggle. So either he didn’t and underestimated the NBA or he did but has found himself incapable of dealing with the difficulties the modern NBA presents.
Neither of those scenarios are great and until he comes out of hiding to put some of these concerns to rest, the Lakers will continue to appear rudderless not just to its fan base, but to those they hope to lead them out of the cellar.