Magic Johnson discussed a whole lot in his explosive appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” on Monday morning, from how he felt betrayed by Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, to how he thought there are too many non-basketball people trying to influence team owner Jeanie Buss.
But the whole appearance wasn’t exclusively focused on what was wrong with the Lakers. Johnson also was asked what his plans would have been for free agency this summer, and well, you probably could have guessed them (via ESPN):
“I would say Kawhi and Kyrie are the two guys. One of those two.”
Again, that probably was fair to assume without Johnson saying it, because the Lakers have maximum cap space and those are two of the best stars available, but given how bad things looked for the last month, it’s probably still good to hear that the team wasn’t planning to, like, throw the max at DeMarcus Cousins, or something.
When host Max Kellerman pointed out that there are pervasive rumors that Leonard is heading for the Clippers, Johnson said that’s easy to guess at now, but that things could always change once LeBron James enters the picture:
“That’s what people say, but let me tell you something: Once you get in a room and LeBron sitting there, everything changes. And so... people have been saying that, but I think that he’s going to look and go to the place where he has the best chance to win.”
And would Magic be willing to help the Lakers sell themselves as the best place to win, despite all the criticism he leveled at them over the course of the day on Monday?
“Listen, if they call me, I’m a Laker, man. If they call me, I’m going.”
Now, how much Johnson could help the Lakers after spending the day trashing their general manager and decision-making structure is up for debate, but the point he makes about James is the one that Lakers fans still clinging to hope about this summer have to be pinning any remaining optimism on. The Lakers may not have a lot going right for them, but they do have one of the best players in the world on their team, maximum cap space and the city of Los Angeles to sell. As bad as things have seemed for the last few months, it’s important to remember that.
If James sits down and looks one of these guys in the eye and tells them that they can win together, that’s a case that is compelling in a way that none of their other heavily rumored suitors are (yet).
The L.A. Clippers may be able to sell gritty role players and a well-run organization, but while that’s something that is great to have process-wise and for longevity, over the next few years, the chance to partner with James may be the more enticing basketball selling point. The New York Knicks may be able to sell Kevin Durant, but he may not be as much of a shoe-in to join them as most seem to think, and it’s different to have a star under contract than a star who might come, or is signing short-term deals. The Lakers at least know they have James for two more years.
But just as these arguments could entice Irving or Leonard, they also might not. Every individual values different things, and we won’t truly know where Leonard and Irving’s hearts lie until they sign somewhere. Until then, where anyone wants them to sign means about as much as Johnson’s free agency plans for a team he no longer runs. Still, it’s interesting to hear which two players he would’ve prioritized, on the record, even if it doesn’t totally matter anymore.