Magic Johnson sat courtside at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, getting a close look as Lonzo Ball helped lead a UCLA comeback victory over the Oregon Ducks. When interviewed by ESPN, Johnson joked about a time that he tried to recruit Bill Walton to the Lakers back in their playing days. Walton, who was calling the game alongside Dave Pasch, would of course end up signing with Boston Celtics.
Johnson jokingly gave Walton some grief before thanking him for his son Luke, who won two NBA championships with the Lakers and is now in his first season as the team’s head coach. Johnson publicly endorsed Walton as head coach in the interview, expressing excitement to work with him moving forward.
Johnson rejoined the Lakers last week as an adviser to team owner Jeanie Buss, but is already aiming for a larger role within the organization. While plenty of things still need to happen for Johnson to earn a greater position in the front office, he expects to have a defined role by the end of the season. No matter what it ends up being, he understands the importance of keeping Walton involved. In an interview with Josh Peter of USA Today Sports, Johnson made it clear that constant communication with Walton will be vital as the Lakers continue their rebuild.
“If I was trying to make decisions on the team and not consult with [Walton], it would never work,’’ Johnson said. “The key is Luke because, OK, what does he have in terms of who’s making him happy? What does he need in terms of coming up on the draft? And even if we have money in free agency, what do we look for to help you as the coach? What do you need? What do you want to look for?”
Walton will obviously play a crucial role in several ways as the Lakers try to rebuild the franchise back into a title contender. While he is in charge of developing the team’s young core, he also provides a more modern approach to the game that the Lakers have been lacking in recent years. But a coach can only go as far as the talent on the court will let him. The Lakers have one of the more promising, young cores in the league, but Johnson acknowledged that it is too early to tell which players on the current roster can bring them back into contention.
Whether they have the players already or need to incorporate some new talent, Johnson understands that the front office will have to work together to get the job done.
“It’s all coming together and working together, all of us. What do you like about the team you have now and what’s missing from the team? What would you like to see? And then he’ll tell you, ‘Well, I want this.’ OK, we’ll bring in those type of guys. Which one do you feel really fits your system? He’ll say blah-blah-blah, I’ll say blah-blah-blah, OK, let’s go with so-and-so.
“It only works that way.’’
Johnson and Walton have spoken over the phone already, and will continue discussing a variety of topics when the Lakers return from their current five-game road trip that concludes on Friday in Milwaukee against the Bucks.
Several questions will continue to swirl around the Lakers and the structure of the front office for the remainder of the season. Changes could certainly be mere months away from unfolding, but Walton can rest easy at night. He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and he will have a powerful say in the future of the Lakers.