On Monday morning, Magic Johnson decided to kick off another hectic week in Lakers land by appearing on ESPN’s First Take. Per usual, Magic had a lot to say regarding many topics including Rob Pelinka’s “backstabbing”, the trade negotiations involving Anthony Davis, and Jeanie Buss not wanting him to fire Luke Walton.
Among all the questions regarding the backroom dealings within the Lakers’ front office, Magic was also asked about the basketball product that he put on the court that eventually led to the Lakers going 37-45 and missing the playoffs. One of the major complaints from Lakers fans was the perceived unwillingness to re-sign Brook Lopez and Julius Randle during the same offseason where the Lakers brought in Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, and Michael Beasley. Magic addressed the two players leaving in the video below:
Magic admitted failure regarding Brook Lopez, saying that he “made a mistake there”. Spacing is huge in today’s NBA, and it’s even bigger if you can get it from your center. Lopez definitely has provided that for the Milwaukee Bucks this year, as he shot 36.5% from three during the regular season. That percentage would have given him the second-best clip out of anyone on the Lakers who played at least 60 games.
Lopez improved in his first year away from L.A., and the same could possibly be said for Julius Randle. In the regular season with the New Orleans Pelicans, Randle averaged 21.4 PPG (career high), 8.7 RPG, and 3.1 APG. He also improved from the three-point line, going from 22.2% on 0.5 attempts per game in the 2017-18 season to 34.4% on 2.7 attempts per game in the 2018-19 season. Magic did say that there was going to be no way to keep Randle as he wanted a two-year deal with the Lakers only offering one. The goal this whole time has been to preserve cap space, with Randle being another casualty of it in an ever-growing list of Lakers cap space casualties.
Magic also attributes the decision to not re-sign Randle to the problem of spacing on the floor when playing him and LeBron James. Randle was a fan of “bully ball”, always bulldozing his way into the lane for a close look at the basket. Obviously, with his 0.5 three-point attempts per game, there was little-to-no spacing brought on by Randle during his last year with the Lakers. He still was a big fan of forcing his way into the lane in New Orleans, but he did add a competent three-point shot that the Lakers would have probably enjoyed.
Even if Magic and the rest of the Lakers front office had re-signed both Lopez and Randle, it would have been for one-year deals and their future Lakers careers would have been re-examined again this summer. With free agents like Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant up for grabs, they probably wouldn’t have stuck around much longer than that one year.
The two players would have possibly improved the Lakers’ playoff chances in the 2018-19 season. Sadly, we’ll never know that for a certainty.