Since Magic Johnson was hired by the Los Angeles Lakers to head basketball operations, most people have lined up to praise the move. Mike D’Antoni was having none of that, though it’s probably also fair to consider the source.
The analysis of the firings and Johnsons hiring often follows a fairly consistent formula:
“Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak = Bad. Magic = Good. Magic will help lure free agents with his charisma. Did we mention Jim and Mitch were bad?”
Read through that equation again. There isn’t much room for nuance, is there? Nuance can be difficult at times, but in the case of Kupchak and Buss, acting as if they didn’t do a few good things in their times in charge is pretty ridiculous.
The fact the Lakers haven’t gone out of their way to acknowledge Kupchak’s three-decade-long tenure beyond a short quote in the release announcing his dismissal sets a tone of pettiness all too many have been a little too willing to roll with.
In a story by Sam Amick of USA Today, D’Antoni was asked about his time in Los Angeles and what he thinks of all the movement in the Lakers’ front office. He did not hold back.
“I really liked working with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss; they weren’t the problem,” said Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, the former Knicks coach who resigned as Lakers head coach in April 2014 after two seasons. “When you have a superstar of the magnitude of Kobe (Bryant), and he retires. And…they had tried to make the trade for Chris Paul (in Dec. 2011 that was blocked by the NBA), and they had it, and that would’ve (kept them successful) another 10 years, and it didn’t work out."
Now, we kind of have to consider the source, here. D’Antoni probably isn’t going to call the guys who hired him the problem. That said, he hits on a couple things that have to be pointed out.
Kobe (or his agent and future GM Rob Pelinka) could not have been easy to deal with. The veto set off a ripple effect that we’re still feeling to this day and probably will still be able to point to years from now. No matter the source of the analysis, the stuff he’s saying is pretty much objectively true, and should not go overlooked.
He goes on:
“They make a couple good moves, get Dwight (Howard), and it didn’t work out. They were doing the right things ... You have to accept that ‘Ok, we’re not (good), and let’s take baby steps.’ And a lot of times, for New York and Los Angeles, that’s not good enough.
“I don’t see (Johnson’s appeal as) being one of the top factors in players deciding whether LA is (for them),” said D’Antoni. “It’s the players they have, the money you’re getting, the role you’re going to have. I see all that way before (the Magic appeal)."
D’Antoni makes an interesting point, here. Can large markets and their impatience fan bases sustain a long-term rebuild? Lakers fans are extraordinarily spoiled. Compared to other franchises, the plight of the last few years is a blip on the radar, and yet people are freaking out about the eons since their team was a legitimate contender.
Johnson seems to have people under the assumption that his smile and charm might be able to convince athletes to leave money on the table in an era of the most empowered athletes we’ve ever seen.
D’Antoni is absolutely right to wonder how that might play out and, when it’s put that way, you can’t help but recognize how potential moronic it might be to think the Lakers are simply falling back on that exceptionalism they can’t seem to move on from.
Most will write off this analysis because it isn’t what they want to hear, let alone who they want to hear it from. But that doesn’t make the line of thinking any less legitimate. Johnson has done a pretty good job since he took over and we obviously all hope it continues. This new regime, however, is not as sure a thing as many have led others to believe.