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Magic Johnson explains why he thinks the Lakers’ young core is ‘untouchable’

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Which player does he think could be “the best defender in the league?” The answer may surprise you!

Charlotte Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson is largely an enigma as an executive. Since he was brought back to the franchise as an advisor, fans have been left to wonder: Is he the superstar-thirsty media personality from his Twitter account, or the type of patient, thorough executive built for success in the modern NBA?

The ball will be up in the air on how Johnson will ultimately fare as the Lakers head honcho for a while, but the early signs are promising for those hoping he’ll help the Lakers execute a patient rebound from their current woes.

The Lakers’ first move under Johnson was to flip veteran guard Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for a first-round pick (and also Corey Brewer), and he declared the Lakers young core “untouchable” on his first day on the job.

During the rest of his first interview since taking on his new role, Johnson told Chris McGee and Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum Sportsnet why he’s so high on the Lakers’ younger players:

“When you think about it, the ceiling is so high for Julius Randle. You think about D'Angelo [Russell], and you can see him coming, getting better and better. And Brandon [Ingram], I just love him. He does so many things to affect the game.

“He can play great defense, he can block shots, he can take it coast-to-coast, he can make good passes, he can shoot from the 3-point line, and we can see his confidence getting better and better.

“[Jordan] Clarkson I love, I think he can be one of the best defenders in the league.

“That big man down in the middle, I'm going to call him Big Z; [Ivica] Zubac. I think he has really established himself as a quality backup center, and I would like to see him get even more minutes.

“And then Larry Nance, Jr... He reminds me of a guy who fills up the stats and you just didn't know he did all those things.”

Just how many players Johnson felt the need to mention by name demonstrates how well the Lakers have done in the draft over the last several years, even with picks outside of the lottery like the one they received from Houston in the Williams deal (Zubac, Nance and Clarkson).

How much of those picks was due to the work of front office personnel like Ryan West and Jesse Buss, and how much credit should have went to the outgoing Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss remains to be seen, but Johnson seems to value the core highly and it would appear unlikely they’ll be on the move.

All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.