Coming off of an underwhelming season, the Los Angeles Lakers will go into the offseason with more questions than answers and most, if not all, of those questions will have to be answered by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.
Johnson was brought on by team president and controlling owner Jeanie Buss in 2017 with the hope that he’d right the ship that has been sinking in Los Angeles over the last five years. Johnson took a big step in the right direction last summer, when he signed LeBron James to a four-year, $153.3 million contract, but every move he and general manager Rob Pelinka have made since then has been met with heavy criticism, both warranted and unwarranted.
However, Buss still believes that Johnson is the right person for the job in spite of the Lakers’ disappointing season. During an appearance on the Sports Business Radio Road Show at Loyola Marymount University on Tuesday, Buss said that she trusts Johnson’s “vision” for the team going forward (transcription via ESPN):
“In terms of basketball decisions, I will always defer to Magic,” Buss said. “He’s brought a vision of the kind of team we’re going to build and a vision of what Lakers basketball is going to be. And I think you can see that. But we’re still building that roster that will get us there.”
Their first attempt at building a roster around James wasn’t too promising. Immediately after signing James, the Lakers spent a combined $21 million on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo. The rest of their cap space was used to sign an eccentric supporting cast featuring Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee. With the exception of McGee, none of those signings moved the needle for the team in any meaningful way.
This summer, the front office will be equipped with roughly $38 million to try and build a better roster around James and the young core, and Buss is confident that they’ll be able to do just that:
“They’ve got everything plotted out and the goals they’re trying to accomplish,” she said. “I think people have to realize that -- and basketball fans do, Lakers fans do -- that we have to operate under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, which means you can’t just go and grab every player that you want. You have to do things with a salary cap and plan your contracts and the timing with free agency and budget so you can put the pieces together. So this will be an important offseason for us in regards to that plan.”
The only problem is that the Lakers’ plan of preserving their cap space has limited their ability to sign quality rotation players over the years and when they do get solid players to commit to one-year deals, they usually have to overpay for their services, resulting in a top-heavy team. With an aging James on their roster, they can’t afford to play it safe any longer.
Whether it’s an All-Star caliber player or a stellar supporting cast, Johnson has to deliver on his promise to bring the Lakers back this summer. If he doesn’t, Buss might be forced to reevaluate who’s calling the shots in Los Angeles.