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In landing LeBron James, Magic Johnson validated his sometimes-controversial team-building process

Magic Johnson didn’t care that people said he couldn’t just sign the biggest free agents. He wanted LeBron James, so he was going to go get LeBron James.

Graphic via Grant Goldberg

A week ago at the introductory press conference for the two newest rookie members of the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson made it clear he wasn’t worried about free agency.

“No pressure on me,” Johnson said. “I am going to do my job ... Do you know how many Finals I have been in? So, you think I’m worried about this? I’ve played against Larry Bird in the Finals. I mean, come on, man.”

“I’m Magic Johnson,” he continued. “I’m going to do my job. That’s what I do. I do my job. I’m excited. It’s fun. I am looking forward to it.”

This was Johnson at his most confident, his most charismatic, the peak of his self-assuredness. It was the type of performance that would either be lauded after he accomplished his goals, or endlessly mocked on the internet and talk shows if he hadn’t.

In fact, the roasting had seemingly already begun when the Lakers didn’t even get a meeting with Paul George before he re-upped with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“They paid a $50,000 tampering fine and couldn’t get a meeting? Lol, same old Lakers,” the internet seemingly cried out in unison.

Sunday, Johnson proved that these aren’t those same old Lakers when LeBron James announced he would sign a four-year deal with the team, resuscitating a dormant superpower and bringing the team’s first megawatt star since Kobe Bryant hung up his Nikes.

LeBron agreeing to join the purple and gold justifies the sometimes controversial cap-space-centric decision-making process Johnson had enacted since taking over the Lakers a little over a year ago.

Throughout the last year and in ways that echoed their deposed predecessors, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, Johnson and Rob Pelinka espoused the values of cap space, promising they would sign the stars Buss and Kupchak never could.

When asked what would happen if he didn’t sign a star, if all the Lakers’ machinations didn’t bring hall-of-famers back to tinseltown, Johnson always laughed it off. After all, this was what the Jeanie Buss brought him here to do. How could he fail?

And so Johnson charged forward, dealing D’Angelo Russell to get off of Timofey Mozgov’s contract and avoiding any long-term salary commitments. As a strategy, it was questionable process, as cap space doesn’t guarantee stars. It was Magic channeling his inner Kobe, using the team-building version of the mid-range two to rip the rest of the league’s free agency dreams to shreds despite countless people crying out it was unlikely to work.

Much like Kobe was so talented that he could still win with a style of basketball most said was hopelessly inefficient, Johnson spit in the face of common thought telling him he couldn’t just sign superstars, that he had to build slowly. Johnson knew he had enough charisma that if he got in the room with the league’s biggest star, he could make things happen.

But to get in the room, Johnson had to take a detour from the Lakers practice facility first.

According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Johnson skipped out on the team’s plans to meet up at their headquarters to call free agents to sneak over to LeBron’s house and seal the deal.

James had been planning to come for a while, but he wanted to meet face-to-face with Magic and make sure they could build a partnership together, so Johnson went rogue, channeling his inner-ninja for a clandestine three-hour meeting that he kept totally secret until after the fact.

Once at James’ home, Johnson found common ground with The King as champions and activists and realized a shared vision of playoff hopes for the Lakers.

Once it was over, James was sold, and Johnson’s year-long vision for the Lakers was realized. He had landed his star, and he had validated the process he took to get there.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected anything less. After all, he’s Magic Johnson. Do you know how many finals he’s been in? I mean, come on.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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