Things are starting to cool down surrounding Friday morning’s big report about a meeting between Magic Johnson and Luke Walton.
Initial details about said meeting paint a picture of turmoil and frustration in which Johnson made no secret of his anger, according to Tania Ganguli and Brad Turner of the L.A. Times:
Johnson shouted and cursed at Walton, according to multiple sources who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. He asked Walton what he was doing with the team, wanting to see an offensive system in place that had yet to be implemented. At one point he chided Walton for interrupting him.
However, Johnson’s frustration reportedly doesn’t mean Walton is in danger of losing his job:
According to multiple people familiar with the situation, Walton’s job is not in jeopardy. Although Johnson is prone to such emotion, he is not prone to making rash business decisions. Walton has also long had the support of Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, and hasn’t lost it as the Lakers go through a rough stretch in the early part of the season.
So for those keeping track at home:
Before the season, Johnson specifically stated that he’d be patient with Luke Walton and the Lakers as they work to figure out how best to get everyone on the same page.
When the schedule came out, just about everyone with two IQ points to rub together saw a brutal early stretch that the Lakers were going to have to play really well during in order to come out even relatively unscathed.
Then, Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo lost their minds against the Houston Rockets and earned themselves four-game and three-game suspensions, respectively — forcing Lonzo Ball, who started the regular season on a minutes restriction because of offseason surgery — into the starting lineup.
So the question positively begs asking: What exactly is it that Magic Johnson can be angry about without introspection as a part of that reaction? Walton didn’t build a team around LeBron devoid of shooters. It wasn’t Walton’s decision to employ a single NBA-caliber traditional center. Those weren’t his calls.
On that front, Turner offered up a few specifics of what was upsetting Johnson:
Sources close to Magic said he was stern with Luke Walton during the meeting more about not having a system in place than the wins and losses. Magic wants to see Luke have the Lakers run an offense that he has yet to see. Sources said that maybe the meeting opened Luke’s eyes.— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) November 2, 2018
So some of this is absolutely fair. Offensively in the half-court, the Lakers have looked like a mess — a problem that has plagued them down the stretch in all of their losses this season.
Even still, given the roster turnover and Ingram and Rondo’s suspensions, plus Walton’s single-minded focus on defense this training camp, Johnson has to remain at least somewhat realistic.
Walton thought heading into this season that, given how many new players would be working together, using defense as a foundation made sense. And to that point, when JaVale McGee is on the court, the Lakers are giving up a very respectable 101.2 points per 100 possessions. When he gets subbed out, that number jumps to 118.4. Given how much of the offense is reliant upon getting stops then running, that difference matters greatly.
Half-court offenses take immense amounts of time to put in place, especially with this much turnover. Walton is by no means perfect. There are issues with attention to detail within the offenses he has put in place that predate this specific roster. Those kinds of things have to be addressed even if his system is implemented fully, and Johnson is right that the Lakers have to be able to score in the half-court when they’re defense can’t generate a fast break.
But expecting anything close to that eight games in is insane given all the mitigating factors mentioned above, and indicative of the volatile reputation Johnson has reportedly earned within the organization.
As has been said and repeated ad nauseam to this point, getting the Lakers to where they need to be is going to take time. At one point, it seemed Johnson understood this. Fortunately, based on this latest it of reporting, it seems like he may still get it.