Magic Johnson failed to build a championship-level supporting cast around LeBron James.
Johnson blamed many – Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss’ management structure and former Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.
Johnson on Demps not dealing Davis to the Lakers before the trade deadline:
It got him fired.
He was looking at me like I caused Anthony Davis to want to be traded. So, we’re on the phone, and he’s blaming me. I said, “What are you blaming me for, Dell?” I heard he wanted to be traded, so I’m giving you a call. “Are you going to trade him?” “You’re not going to trade him.” So, he had me send three or four proposals, but he never got serious, Shannon. He never got serious. And I said, I told Rob, I told Jeanie, “He doesn’t want to trade AD to us.” And sure enough, the last one was, “Give us your whole team and five first-round picks.” I said, “Listen, man. [Laughter.] I can’t give you five first-round picks and the whole team.” He wanted all our young guys. I said, “No, I can’t do it now.” That’s when I said he doesn’t want to trade him.
And look what happened. When they found out, the owner found out what was the trade proposal from us, she was like, “Oh, what are you doing?” And then the new general manager comes.
The Pelicans fired Demps, because they didn’t trust him to oversee the organization’s next phase. It had nothing to do with his refusal to trade Davis to the Lakers. In fact, Pelicans owner Gayle Benson herself reportedly resisted sending Davis to Los Angeles.
Johnson also doesn’t explain how the teams would’ve constructed such a lopsided trade during the season. The roster limit would’ve been a significant impediment.
Not only did that issue clear up in the offseason, the Lakers could substantially improve their offer, because they landed the No. 4 pick in the lottery – a historically unlikely jump. The Pelicans might have also become more comfortable dealing their incumbent superstar after landing No. 1 pick Zion Williamson, who could immediately replace Davis as the franchise’s major attraction.
It also probably helped that New Orleans hired David Griffin as lead executive. Benson has shown trust in him. If Griffin said Los Angeles made the best offer – no matter how reluctant Benson was to send Davis there – she was more likely to listen.
But what if the Pelicans traded Davis to the Lakers before last season’s trade deadline? Johnson:
I would still be there. And then I could I have the coach that I wanted. I’d still be there, of course.
Everything would’ve fallen into place, and also too, Kawhi, knowing him, knowing the uncle, so we had some great conversations, too. So, we would’ve had just as good a shot as we had before, but I think even better with me in that position.
I’m not saying that he would’ve come to the Lakers, but I’m saying I think we would’ve had a better shot at him.
He was going to come to the Lakers unless they got Paul George.
It’s almost as if Johnson forgot he didn’t get fired. He quit.
To be fair, the job would’ve been more appealing if he had Davis. Pulling off that trade could’ve given Johnson greater cachet. That could’ve made it smoother to fire Luke Walton.
As far as Leonard, there is reporting that corroborates Johnson’s theory – that Leonard would’ve signed with the Lakers if the Clippers didn’t trade for George. But there’s also reporting that Johnson’s loose lips hurt the Lakers’ chances with Leonard.
I’m intrigued in the idea Johnson would still be running the Lakers if he could’ve landed Davis before the trade deadline. But Johnson’s statements are littered with so many other self-inflating, barely believable (at best) claims, it’s hard to take any of it seriously. It is an interesting counterfactual, though.