Since Magic Johnson became president of basketball operations, the Los Angeles Lakers have been fined for tampering twice, investigated two other times (that we know of) and earned a reputation — justified or not — as a team that skirts the rules.
Some of those facts ignore some context on their own — Johnson himself only earned one of the fines, for example, and it was for some seemingly innocuous comments about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning a championship in Milwaukee — but the fact of the matter is that even if the recent call for an investigation from the New Orleans Pelicans and the one the NBA instituted on behalf of the Philadelphia 76ers did not yield anything (yet), the Lakers still have to be careful.
With that in mind, Johnson himself was not having it when he was asked about Kemba Walker by a reporter at an event leading up to NBA All-Star Weekend (via Carolina Blitz):
Reporter: I have a question I have to ask you about Kemba Walker--
Magic: “You know I can’t answer any questions about no players, because every time I do, I get fined, but anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So I’m gonna stay away from that one.”
Here’s video of the exchange for context:
Asked Magic about Kemba and he said y’all aren’t going to catch him slipping anymore. pic.twitter.com/sQZtIWnQbn— Carolina Blitz (@KeepBlitzin) February 15, 2019
Hey, look at that! The Magic Man has finally translated his unparalleled ability to read defenses on the court to being able to avoid unforced turnovers against the press.
*sniffles* It’s so touching when you see a young executive prospect grow right before your very eyes... *wipes away tear*
In all seriousness, this was probably the approach Magic always should have taken after the Giannis fine last year, because it does seem to be clear that there is somewhat of a double-standard for him when it comes to talking about opposing players.
Don’t believe me? While some will point to Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry getting fined $25,000 for his comments about Anthony Davis as evidence the league is fairly applying the rules across the board, Magic does still have some legitimate examples to gripe about.
Consider that Jerry West — an LA Clippers executive — was not fined for publicly glowing about LeBron James’ greatness a month before free agency last summer, or that the Clippers’ front office is basically being allowed to stalk Kawhi Leonard around the league all season.
There was also Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta telling Steven Godfrey of SB Nation that he “would love to see Jimmy (Butler) come home to Houston” as the then-Timberwolves star was demanding a trade.
These are just a few of the reasons why Johnson (somewhat justifiably) seems to feel as though the NBA has a hard-on for fining him, and by extension, the Lakers. That is in part due to what seems to be a perception — fair or not — that the team engages in some extra extracurricular activities in trying to get players, leading to “a sort of distaste for the way the Lakers have done some of their business since (Pelinka and Johnson) have taken over.”
Unfortunately, short of changing that perception somehow, there isn’t much Johnson can do about that view. All he can do — and seems to now be doing — is be extra careful of what he says when he’s in front of cameras and microphones.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.