Magic Johnson’s latest stop on the media tour he’s been on since coming back to the Los Angeles Lakers was ESPN, and he was his typical, engaging self. This time, the topic centered more specifically around what he aims to do in the coming days and weeks as an advisor to his old team.
In terms of what fans might notice first, Magic brought up how he’d like to bring Kobe Bryant back to the organization on ESPN's First Take. Then, in a sitdown with Hannah Storm on SportsCenter, he answered questions about what he hopes might come out of his meeting with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.
Storm asked how Johnson might repair his relationship with Buss after having been so publicly critical of the job he’s done over the last four years. She also asked about how Jeanie Buss might handle her brother at year’s end, now that his self-instated timeline has run its course.
Johnson couldn’t comment on how the Buss siblings might handle that, but he expanded plenty on his meeting scheduled for Monday and his public relationship with Jim Buss.
“I'm going to always be an upfront guy. I have to be, I'm a CEO of my own company so I have to be honest with my employees. I'm going to be honest with Jim, I'm going to be honest with Mitch, and I'm hoping that they will embrace and accept that. And same thing coming from them to me. I'm going to accept what they have to say, and what they have coming my way. But at the same time, something has to change. You look at the record. The record speaks for itself. We have to change.”
That feels like a bit of a bombshell. Magic obviously isn’t saying the personnel in charge of the Lakers’ decisions has to change, but he certainly doesn’t sound thrilled with the job they’ve done thus far. He also doesn’t sound like someone hoping to merely fit in with those already working there.
To a certain degree, however, Magic might be making a valid point. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and hoping for a different result. Yes, the Lakers have assembled a promising young core, but they haven’t handled the last couple trade deadlines very well.
Lou Williams probably won’t have more value to the Lakers than he does right now as a trade asset. Nick Young has a player option he almost definitely won’t pick up in the offseason. Tarik Black has been a nice surprise and could help a contender as an energizing big off the bench. Over the last couple years, the front office has passed on opportunities to turn these kinds of assets into the kind that furthers the rebuild.
If Magic thinks that’s been a mistake he’d like to change, then the front office should be all ears to his advice.
“We have really good young players, we have to develop the players that we have, but at the same time at the top, things have to change. You have to think differently, you have to look at who's doing well and say 'okay, why are they doing it so well and why are they at the top. We have to copy some of that.'"
Again, the way he’s using ‘change’ is pretty ominous for those who’ve been running the Lakers — in this instance more than just about any other on his media tour. The point he makes about how other teams are having success is certainly exciting, as the Lakers have historically held off on such practices due to their belief in their own exceptionalism.
The NBA has changed, and the Lakers need to catch back up. If Johnson’s hiring marks the first step in doing so without relying too heavily on figures of the Lakers past, this hiring could be a success.
A lot of these quotes and the subsequent analysis of the quotes are highly speculative. No one knows what the relationship between Magic and the current front office might be like, including those directly involved. To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t seem smart to have Magic speaking publicly as much as he has without a couple of these meetings having taken place, but there was simply no way hiring Magic Johnson was going to fly under the radar.
Make no mistake, though. Magic does not sound like someone who’ll work from the background as a silent advisor. Jeanie would not have hired and empowered him the way she seems to have if that was going to be the case. The media tour itself speaks to how vital Jeanie sees Magic to this rebuild.
How vital she sees her brother and the current GM remains to be seen.