While the Los Angeles Lakers were in the midst of a game they would eventually win, ESPN broadcasters Mike Breen and Mark Jackson had an interesting exchange about Magic Johnson’s now infamous meeting with Luke Walton.
It starts with Breen providing the context that Johnson expected more from Walton. Then Jackson, one of a couple coaches tied to the Lakers job if it becomes available, gave his two cents.
BREEN: Of course the story about Magic Johnson being quite harsh with Luke on the team — let’s get the team playing better. But they’re 4-6, okay. One of their key players was suspended four games — Ingram. Rondo, three-game suspension. Lonzo Ball had restrictions early when he first came back. They’re learning to play with each other. This lack of patience is out of hand.
JACKSON: They played bad, Mike.
So much for that coaches fraternity former coaches almost always (read: always) fall back on as broadcasters. Breen and Jackson continued:
MB: Okay, granted — ...
MJ: And that’s just the way it is in the league today. The expectations when you get the best player in the world. Luke Walton was well-aware of it, and he’s an outstanding coach. But the expectations came along with signing LeBron James. This team has got to play better.
MB: Again, the same thing happened when James went to Miami — when he first went to Miami. They started slowly, and then wind up winning a couple of titles. Same thing when he went back to Cleveland, their first start, and then they go to the finals.
MJ: And guess what: There was rumors about (a) head coaching replacement in Miami. In Cleveland, there was a change. It comes with the territory. Now, if you’re Luke Walton, the expectation is: ‘Let’s fight through this and I’ll be wearing jewelry at the end as the head coach of this basketball team.’ But Magic Johnson has done nothing but win his entire life.
It should be pointed out that Jackson represented by Klutch Sports (the same agency that reps LeBron James) and has been a friend of Magic’s for years. That context makes this exchange all the more noteworthy.
Frankly, this comes off as a little gross, despite Johnson’s hollow praising of Walton as “an outstanding coach.”
One of the unwritten rules among NBA head coaches is that you never openly campaign for a job that is currently filled. It’s why Jason Kidd’s handling of the situation before he got the job with the Milwaukee Bucks was so criticized.
Jackson isn’t literally campaigning for Walton’s gig, but he also isn’t not doing that, either.
Breen was trying to set up Jackson for the typical coach-speak answer (and was providing important context on what all this season has included already), but Jackson was having none of those excuses. Given his very obvious ties to the Lakers in this case and how he would seem to directly benefit from Walton’s dismissal, Jackson’s response comes off as pretty grimy.
Nonetheless, the Lakers won and Walton is still the team’s head coach. They now sit at 5-6 (an altogether decent result given everything Breen mentioned at the top) and have a few winnable games in the immediate future. Unfortunately for Jackson, that means he’ll have to wait a little longer to coach his buddy’s team, if that’s what is eventually happening.