Magic Johnson 'just giddy' that Rob Pelinka has made Lakers a title contender

El Segundo, California September 28, 2023-Lakers head coach Darvin Ham.

His voice would rise throughout the conversation because he was unable to hide his excitement, each sentence from Magic Johnson about his beloved Lakers and the job Rob Pelinka did in constructing the team showing how “giddy” the Lakers Hall of Famer is about what they can accomplish.

Johnson sees LeBron James and the Lakers as a championship contender and said Pelinka, the team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager whose moves began turning the team around last season, should be lauded for his vision.

“From that trade deadline to this offseason, we should all give him a standing ovation, because these Lakers are dangerous,” Johnson said Thursday during a phone interview. “This is a championship team and they shouldn’t run away from that. They should embrace that and then go for it. I think LeBron sees it too. One thing I’m really happy about is that he can see that he has a championship team. And when him and Anthony Davis feel like, ‘Oh, man. OK, we can win it all,’ watch out for them.”

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Pelinka’s offseason moves served as an encore to his midseason makeover and earned him an equal amount of praise.

Austin Reaves (four years, $56 million), Jarred Vanderbilt (four years, $48 million), Rui Hachimura (three years, $51 million) and D’Angelo Russell (two years, $37 million) all re-signed with the Lakers. Gabe Vincent (three years, $33 million), Christian Wood (two years, $5.74 million), Jaxson Hayes (two years, $4.6 million), Taurean Prince (one year, $4.5 million) and Cam Reddish (two years, $4.6 million) signed as free agents to provide more depth.

“This is going to be one of the most exciting seasons, because this is an exciting team,” Johnson said. “See, everybody we got can run. They can jump. This is going to be crazy. People are going to be really excited to watch this team play. I’m just giddy. I can’t wait. So, Rob, thank you, thank you, and he deserves to be executive of the year. They overlooked him all those years, but they can’t overlook him with this one. He is clearly the executive of the year.”

LeBron James hugs Magic Johnson after he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer.
LeBron James, right, hugs Magic Johnson after he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer on Feb. 7. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Pelinka said he stays in contact with Johnson, the two talking basketball and how the Lakers can be great again.

On Thursday, after Pelinka and Lakers coach Darvin Ham had their preseason news conference with the media, Pelinka smiled when talking about Johnson.

“Yeah, Earvin is excited about this team,” Pelinka said. “We all are.”

Johnson likes that the Lakers are so deep and can play a variety of ways. He likes that Pelinka gave Davis a three-year extension for $186 million that will keep him through 2028.

“I like the variety, because we can have so many different lineups in there,” Johnson said. “That’s how you win. That’s how you win the championship. You got to have versatility in your lineup and we have it. Now, even if LeBron is out, we can win. If Anthony Davis is out, we can win. If somebody gets injured, we can win.

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“And then keeping Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russsell and Hachimura, keeping all three of these young guys who I think made such a huge contribution and impact on the Lakers. So we didn’t let anybody get away. I thought he set the tone by re-signing them first and then making all the incredible acquisitions. So, I’m so proud of Rob. The thought process that went into each player, see that’s what I’m talking about. So, each one of them brings something to the table that will make a huge contribution in different ways. So, watch out.”

Johnson also had praise for Ham and how the first-year coach handled himself and the team throughout the turbulent 2022-23 season in which the Lakers started 2-10.

Ham stayed the course, taking the Lakers to the conference finals.

“Coach Ham, you could see how the whole season he got better and better and better and then we saw how he made great moves in the playoffs,” Johnson said “I was really impressed with Coach Ham’s ability.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham smiles during a news conference in El Segundo on Thursday.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham smiles during a news conference in El Segundo on Thursday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers will have their media day Monday and then start training camp Tuesday.

In Johnson’s view, they are prepared for a long and successful season because how Pelinka put together a team capable of playing in the uber-competitive Western Conference.

“Rob’s thought process was amazing,” Johnson said. “So, the strategy was amazing and then he executed on that strategy. Now here we are and I feel we are the best team, to me, the deepest team in the West and that makes us, to me, the best team in the West, because we are so deep and so talented.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.