Earvin Johnson rightfully got his nickname “Magic” for his now you see it, now you don’t approach as a point guard. For instance, watch any highlight video and he’ll be directing the defender’s attention one way before placing a perfect pass to his man. It was his trademark during his career as a player.
Now as the President of Basketball Operations, he’s doing the same thing. He is diverting attention one way, absolving him of the blame he should be receiving for this season.
Magic and GM Rob Pelinka apparently want a change from current head coach Luke Walton (which would have been prevented by Jeannie Buss). They faulted him with everything going wrong with this season and as much as most of the fan base would agree with that sentiment, Magic Johnson and the front office need to take responsibility.
Let’s take it back to the summer of 2018. July 1st. Lakers get LeBron James! We’re back! …….Right? This is gonna be fun?
So, it’s now time to build the roster. Julius Randle was renounced, he was not a priority for the front office and ended up in New Orleans. Brook Lopez faced the same fate. In conclusion, the frontcourt rotation was let go. So, they signed JaVale McGee. McGee started off the season playing well but after his return from pneumonia, his effort has been lacking.
It’s known that LeBron James succeeds when surrounded by shooters.
The players that they signed that are not shooters:
Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley were the next signings. I did add their nicknames from Basketball-Reference (where I got these stats) because they are hilarious.
- Michael Beasley (aka B-Easy, Walking Bucket, Supercool Beas): .395% from 3 with the Knicks the year prior. 13.2 off the bench with .528 eFG. Not bad.
- Result: Sent to the Clippers as part of the Zubac package for Mike Muscala. Had some personal matters going on this season, apparently had a verbal altercation with Luke Walton.
- Rajon Rondo (aka Johnny Swag, The Yoga Instructor): he’s not Tyler Ennis! Not a bad point guard off the bench, and a veteran point guard that could help mentor Lonzo Ball. He averaged 8.3 points, 8.1 assists and shot 33% from deep in 63 games last season with New Orleans.
- So far: Injury-stricken season. As his assist numbers can look good at times and he’s been shooting the 3 fairly well, he’s been more of a detriment on the defensive end, with a defensive rating of 110.3 on the year. In February, he had a defensive rating of 118.5. In this month he’s had a -19.2 net rating which isn’t good, to say the least. the most part, it looks like he’s more interested in getting his assist and steal numbers up. This has been the narrative since he left Boston. We shall see what happens with his insertion into the starting lineup.
- Lance Stephenson (Born Ready): averaged 9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists for Indiana last season, shooting 29% from deep
- A net rating of -17.1 February 2019. For some reason NBA twitter finds Lance to be amusing but he’s been a dumpster fire.
But Kendrew, there’s no way that this was solely Magic Johnson’s doing?
Exhibit A: Magic’s plan.
Magic Johnson says he'was inspired by the Celtics and Rockets in the playoffs while building current Lakers roster pic.twitter.com/El4e5t1cI8
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) July 18, 2018
Some quotes from this:
Everybody saying that the Lakers don’t have shooting. We got shooting, we saw all the teams in the playoffs that got shooting and they got beat.
I watched every series [of the playoffs] so I built this team based on what happened in the playoffs. You don’t just build the team for the regular season, you have to build it for the playoffs as well.
Houston had tough guys. Boston had tough guys. So what did I bring in? Tough guys.
So, how’d this work out?
The Lakers rank 21st in offensive efficiency at 107.1 and are ranked 13th with a 108.4 defensive efficiency. How’s the lack of shooters? As of February 28, they’re ranked 28th at 33.8% from deep. They were even worse prior to the trade deadline.
So, let’s talk about that debacle.
It’s been widely publicized that Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans. As a Klutch client, he’d have a direct connection to another Klutch client in Los Angeles. What were the Lakers going to give up for Anthony Davis?
In short, everyone.
Landed in Indy; update on Lakers-Pelicans talks. Magic Johnson, Dell Demps talked twice today, per source. Lakers willing to give Pelicans cap relief for Anthony Davis by taking Solomon Hill for Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ingram, Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Beasley, 2 1st round picks.
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) February 4, 2019
Surely having weeks of trade rumors about you is going to affect players. February 5th against the Pacers would have been the last game for the young players if they were traded. They were thrashed 136-94. The worst loss of LeBron’s career.
Having your name dangled in trade discussions would definitely affect your play. Being in your early 20’s on the Lakers is enough pressure enough. But having the thought of you having to uproot your life to move someplace else is stressful. It’s part of the business of course but you can’t go about ignoring the personal aspect of it all.
If you recall in December of 2011, the Lakers had a trade fall through due to basketball reasons. The relationship of one of the players, Lamar Odom, was irreparable . After that happened, even though it was under a different front office, you’d think the Lakers would know they would want to preserve what they had with the young players.
Magic Johnson did!
Magic Johnson plans to hug Lakers players after the drama surrounding the NBA trade deadline.@LarryLage https://t.co/b1CnLdXqPK pic.twitter.com/2mVl9ZDnmI
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) February 10, 2019
Then Magic Johnson pivoted.
Magic Johnson was extremely business like in talking about players: “I’m not the guy, ‘Oh I’m going to up and hug guys.’ I’m not that dude. And they’re ready to go, so let’s not belabor that point, like all of a sudden everyone is upset over maybe being traded, maybe not.” pic.twitter.com/kcnj99Ijql
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 10, 2019
It’s impressive really. He’s shown versatility before like in game 6 of the 1980’s NBA finals, playing all 5 positions but going from great boss to terrible boss in less than 24 hours? Absolutely masterful.
Anyway back to the moves that they did.
Making up for a bad offseason:
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and a second round pick for Reggie Bullock.
I loved this move. Reggie Bullock was one of the better shooters from 3. A role that the Lakers were sorely lacking in. He is a career 40% shooter. And has been averaging 11.3 points per game as a Laker, shooting 46% from deep. Even though we had to depart with our Ukranian son, having another shooter for LeBron has been fantastic. It makes you wonder what would have happened if they had gone for shooters in the first place.
Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley for Mike Muscala.
I hated this move. Ivica Zubac was playing some of the best basketball of his career prior to this happening. Having to give up on a player who was our best option at center for a “shooter” was absolutely idiotic. Although Zubac was to be a restricted free agent this summer and the Lakers thought they wouldn’t have been able to afford him.
Here's the full quote on why the Lakers traded Zubac, from Brad Turner pic.twitter.com/x65K32mOta
— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) February 14, 2019
Why not just keep him for the rest of the season and see how it played out? The player who they traded for, Mike Muscala (career 36% from 3, but only shooting 27% with the Lakers and averaging just below 4 points per game) is free agency bound this summer anyway.
It was a way for them to get a stretch big. It was their way of trying to add the shooting they never gained during the summer. But by doing so they strengthened a divisional rival and made the team weaker. That mistake cost them as their already anemic frontcourt rotation was getting dominated by the likes of Dewayne Dedmon and Joakim Noah (yes, in 2019).
In that same game where Joakim Noah dominated the Lakers, the entirety of the Lakers bench put up a staggering 7 points in the entire game. Rajon Rondo had 2 points. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 2 points. Mike Muscala had 3. The game prior against the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans, the bench put up 24 but subsequently let Ian Clark and Cheick Diallo combine for 35 on their own.
To have such an inept group of players all while letting a 34-year-old LeBron James play up to 38 minutes a game because there are no other options is asinine. It is not sustainable, especially given the fact that LeBron still has a few years left on his deal.
Blame Luke as much as you want, especially after the loss to Milwaukee on Friday night, but what else is he going to do given with that roster? This bench isn’t doing anything, He’s cutting their minutes down because playing them is a detriment to the team. Injuries happen but the fact that there viability outside of the starting 5, this roster construct is a mess.
Summer of 2018, Magic Johnson gave himself a deadline. If the Lakers are not “successful” in two summers he’ll step down.
Let’s take it back to his first appearance as the president of basketball operations.
I’m putting it all on the line. . . . I’m a risk taker. . . . If I didn’t think we could turn this around, you think I’d be sitting in this room?
He can flash his smile all he wants. Make all the appearances on Kimmel he wants and joke about tampering. Talk about how he was part of the Showtime Lakers for the millionth time.
But until he can start making better moves, the Lakers are going to just be some middling team with an old LeBron and young talent wasting away because this front office doesn’t know how to fill out a roster. For a man that was successful in everything he’s done so far, his tenure as the president of basketball operation has been anything but that.
There could be a chance that comes around this spring, Magic can watch all of the playoff series again trying to see who to sign as his deadline gets closer and closer.