Magic Johnson has only been at his new job as Lakers president of basketball operations and advisor a few months, but he’s taken care of quite a bit. The team’s front office has been cleared, former superagent Rob Pelinka can now be named due to his role as the team’s just-hired general manager, and the new regime already even made its first move in dealing Lou Williams. A Lakers-sized stage is set for Magic to take on the start-it-all-over role he’s long envisioned himself as perfect for, in the years between his 1991 and 1996 retirements as a player and the Lakers’ move to hand him the keys in 2017.
In the meantime, just as it is for any famous person that has to take the reins of a disappointing franchise perched in a town that also features locally-broadcast late night talk shows, Johnson has played the rounds. Most recently that work dovetailed nicely with ABC/ESPN’s ongoing NBA postseason coverage, as Magic met with Jimmy Kimmel to discuss his new life with the Lakers.
We’ll leave it up to you, as Kimmel prefers, to seek out the full interview at your leisure. For our purposes, Magic’s inside-out dribble in the face of the Paul George Question was masterful and worth relaying:
For those that can’t play the piece, Magic confirmed that he’d be “wink-winkin’” at George, were he to see him this summer, but only because the two know each other as friends. Not because, in Magic’s words, “hey, I want you to come to the Lakers.”
George, an Indiana Pacer who is under contract until 2018, could sign a massive contract extension with the team this summer. He could also forego that contract, in light of being told he failed to make the three All-NBA teams (which would deny him over $70 million in potential salary with the Pacers). From there, George would no doubt move ahead with what would almost certainly be a 2017-18 season rife with trade rumor.
If that wasn’t enough intrigue for you, president of business operations and part-owner Jeanie Buss had to go and be open and candid about her initial discussions with Magic Johnson, chum, as he interviewed his way into the position of “Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations.”
Via Silver Screen and Roll, here’s Buss on the Open Run Podcast, discussing Johnson’s admiration for rookie head coach Luke Walton:
“I asked him who he would build the team around. He thought about it for a second and he said, ‘I don’t know if you have the player yet… I would build the team around Luke.’”
Shock horror, a successful businessman and former NBA champion was not keen to lie about the outsized potential of Laker guard D’Angelo Russell or 97-pound rookie swingman Brandon Ingram. Instead, in talking with his friend and future boss, Johnson seemed more interested in talking up the prospects of Luke Walton. The guy that started off his NBA career with 40 straight wins, the guy who absolutely could not help but win ballgames down the stretch of a season that called for the Lakers to lose as much as possible.
Even in an inconsistent year that didn’t see Russell turn the corner in a major way, or No. 2 pick Ingram vault into the Rookie of the Year discussion, those five extra wins (in a row!) toward the end of Walton’s first, 26-win season with the Lakers stood as the only thing the rookie coach did wrong all year. Walton was left in an impossible position, straightening out what Byron Scott had left his imprint on while minding the minutes of two overpaid veterans – Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng – shoved onto the roster by a since-deleted front office featuring Jim Buss (Magic’s longtime combatant, and former president of basketball ops) and Mitch Kupchak.
Of course Magic is correct to acknowledge Walton’s promise and Buss is good to relay those initial thoughts on record. We think.
The unthinkable is now in place. Magic Johnson as Laker el jefe seemed like a monstrously-poor idea just a year or two ago, but with this current setup (Jeanie Buss in firm control, Rob Pelinka pushing the operation, Luke Walton in place, potential lottery picks) the idea of Magic as more than an idea man reads as a promising one. Not just for its fascination, either.
Magic’s jokes aren’t just good for jocks, his TV show may have stunk and his time on the ABC/ESPN set wasn’t exactly celebrated, but there is a reason he was given TV gig after TV gig, and panel placement on Kimmel last week.
He can negotiate his way around the obvious, in front of a studio audience that has no clue why this year’s All-NBA Team votes might play a major role in Los Angeles’ future, while keeping the segment moving. It’s more entertaining than watching what Bob Myers’ answer to the Kevin Durant-question would have been at this time in 2015, and Magic’s response probably isn’t all that removed to some sly comment Red Auerbach may have made about Brian Shaw or Alvan Adams at some point during his time running the Celtics.
Even after some Paul George jokes, even after saying the Lakers didn’t have a star he’d value Luke Walton as a prize above any other Laker player, even after flirting with Kobe, Magic Johnson still appears to be off on the right foot.
So, he’s charmed us. We’re not the first.
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