Eight months after Magic Johnson rocked the Lakers and the NBA, the arrow is pointing sharply up in Los Angeles.
And Johnson wants you to know that it’s thanks to him.
In April, Johnson stunned fans, colleagues and the entirety of the NBA by abruptly resigning as Los Angeles Lakers president before the final game of the season.
He did not do so professionally. He called an impromptu pregame news conference where he informed media before he told his boss and longtime friend Jeanie Buss. Or LeBron James. Or anyone in the Lakers organization.
Lakers’ struggles under Magic
The decision and spectacle arrived at the end of a disastrous season. The Lakers — during their first, celebrated campaign after landing the whale that is James — fizzled to a 37-45 finish, good for 10th place in the West and an invitation to the NBA draft lottery.
It was the first time since James’ second season in the league that he didn’t make the playoffs. It was a nightmare scenario that not even the staunchest of Kobe-stans could have predicted as they lamented the mere presence of James on the hallowed ground of Lakers basketball.
Anthony Davis debacle
On top of that, the Lakers had failed to land Anthony Davis. Their prime target to pair alongside James in the quest for the next Lakers dynasty, Davis remained in New Orleans after a spectacular failure at the trade deadline.
Not only was a deal not consummated, but the failure do so played out in embarrassingly public fashion that saw Johnson accusing the Pelicans of not dealing in good faith and ended with a roster full of role players who knew they had been dangled as trade bait.
It’s a new world of Lakers basketball
Fast forward to December, and all is well in L.A. The Lakers, now with Davis after a post-Magic summer deal, are off to the hottest start in the West. Thursday’s matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks received playoff-level hype that’s rare for a regular season game, much less one in December.
It’s the type of energy and success that everyone invested in the Lakers craves and expects, but didn’t sniff at any point during Johnson’s two-year tenure as a Lakers executive.
Feel free to thank Magic
And he wants credit for it. He said so out loud to Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke in a profile published on Wednesday.
“This team would not be in the position it’s in without me,” Johnson said.
Johnson also told Plaschke that his only regret in the whole ordeal was pulling the rug out from underneath Buss and James — that he would have given them a heads up if he had a chance to do it over again.
And that’s fair. Everyone has situations they wish they had handled better. And if Buss is cool, then it’s fair to expect fans and media to be cool too.
But taking credit for the Lakers’ success this season? Dude.
The only thing Johnson could remotely seriously think was his doing was landing James.
What exactly is he taking credit for?
Yes, James landed on Johnson’s watch.
But does any reasonable person believe that Johnson was the reason James signed up to close his career with the Lakers?
James, with his eyes on a Hollywood media empire, property in Los Angeles and a son coming of basketball age now playing for a high profile SoCal prep team, had long been tied to the city.
Writing was on the wall pointing to an inevitable pairing of the game’s brightest star with the league’s marquee franchise.
Giving credit to Johnson as anything beyond a facilitator is a stretch.
Davis arrived in spite of Johnson
Beyond James, the Lakers’ success this season can be tied directly to the arrival of Davis and a stifling defense that can be partially credited to first-year coach Frank Vogel, who build his career as a defensive-minded tactician.
Johnson had nothing to do with either of those arrivals.
So what exactly is Magic taking credit for?
Wait, didn’t he quit?
The thing is, had Johnson not abruptly quit, he might be in a place where people were willing to give him credit, deserved or not. There’s no telling how his presence would have impacted the offseason Davis deal. But assuming Davis arrives regardless of Johnson, he’d be in a spot to take credit for the deal had he stuck around.
But he didn’t. And that’s fine. Magic wanted to go back to being Magic, not the stressed out Earvin saddled with the often mundane tasks of an NBA executive. He wanted to travel and tweet and spend time in the community.
And he sounds happier for the decision. Which is great.
He just shouldn’t expect anybody with eyes and ears to take him seriously when he expects credit for the success of these Lakers.
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