Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers introduced Moe Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk but all anyone could talk about afterward was what Johnson said about free agency. And for good reason. He might have just put himself on a similar timeline to the one that cost Jim Buss his job.
“Next summer, if nobody comes, and I’m still sitting here like this, then it’s a failure,” Johnson said in a scrum after the press conference. “But if you judge us on one summer, that’s ridiculous. Then, a lot of dudes shouldn’t be in their roles.
Because if we’re banking on one summer for the Lakers, we’re in trouble, right? Because you have to give us time... It’s like I told you when I took the job, it’s going to be a two-summer thing for the Lakers. This summer, and next summer. And that’s it. And if I can’t deliver, I’m going to step down myself. (Jeanie Buss) won’t have to fire me; I’ll step away from it. You know, because then I can’t do this job.”
Full video below via Allen Sliwa of ESPN Los Angeles:
Interesting stuff from Magic...Giving himself a deadline of two Summers to turn the Lakers around...— Allen Sliwa (@LakersTalkESPN) June 26, 2018
“If I can’t get deliver, I’m going to step down myself, she (Jeanie) don’t have to fire me, I’ll step away from it.” pic.twitter.com/Q0FPzPJxIA
So there’s that.
This can mean a couple things. First, Magic might have a ton of confidence heading into this weekend, and not without reason. Vegas sees the Lakers as far-and-away favorites to land LeBron James and, while Paul George’s likelihood of staying with the Oklahoma City Thunder has increased, it’s hard to imagine Andre Roberson would keep him there while there’s an opportunity to play with James on the Lakers.
Magic could also just be being Magic. You don’t reach the heights he has on and off the court without supreme confidence. This might just be an extension of that confidence into what they’re trying to do.
Still, Johnson does put himself at risk here. Words mean something and fans will hold him to these promises. He’s obviously in much better standing than Buss was when he put his infamous timeline into place and fewer people will be calling for his firing because of that, but when you make promises like this, people will take notice.
Another thing to take into account is the wiggle room Magic has compared to Buss. Remember, Buss had a specific goal in mind (the western conference finals). All Magic technically has to do is sign someone. He also alluded briefly to “this class,” which hints at improvement the team might make even if they don’t sign a superstar this or next season.
Earlier, during the actual press conference, the topic of free agency first came up.
“Well, we’re excited about free agency,” Johnson said. “And we’ve often said we know we have two summers. And we’ll see what happens this summer. If we don’t sign who we think we can sign, we’ll turn our attention to next summer.
“We have the cap space and flexibility and we created that and we’re looking forward to Sunday. But again, we have not put all our marbles into one summer,” Johnson said. “We understand that we have two summers to add to what we’re building here. I’m going to stay disciplined; stay focused. I told you before this is not going to get turned around overnight. We’re building something. We want sustainability, and so Jeanie (Buss) is 100 per cent behind us and our strategy.
“We’ve been having unbelievable strategy meetings every single day. Rob and I have been going over 100 scenarios and players, and we will continue to just build this strategy until this weekend,” Johnson said. “We’re excited, but at the same time, we’re going to stay disciplined.”
That last part is crucial. By mentioning the front office’s discipline, Magic avoids some discomfort that would come with an arbitrary deadline. Sustainability typical comes through development and smart spending, not self-serving moves to hold onto a job Johnson himself admits he wouldn’t deserve if they fail outright the next two summers.
All this said, he never seemed uncomfortable with the possibility of failure. When asked how much pressure he feels personally, Magic gave a perfectly Magic Johnson answer.
“No pressure. I’m going to do my job. I’ve always done that,” Johnson said. “You know how many finals I’ve been in? So you think I’m worried about this? I’ve played against Larry Bird in the finals. I mean, come on, now. I’ve been in nine finals. I’ve been in conference championships. I’m still the same dude. There’s no pressure on me.”