Lakers Start New Era With Magic Johnson Named President of Basketball Operations
Part of finding a path to continued success is realizing when continued failure has driven you into an impenetrable wall. The Los Angeles Lakers finally reached their rock bottom on Tuesday, giving way to a massive shake-up within their executive management infrastructure.
The Lakers started their plight to rebuild back into a title contender by hiring Luke Walton to be their head coach this past summer.
Magic to the Rescue?
Their positive moves toward a brighter future for a once proud organization continued on Tuesday, with the announcement that former Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson would be taking over as the team’s new President of Basketball Operations:
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 21, 2017
L.A. Governor Jeanie Buss made some tough calls on Tuesday, firing long-time GM Mitch Kupchak, as well as brother and Lakers Vice President of Basketball Operations, Jim Buss.
Jeanie Buss has gone on the record in past years that she still trusted the team’s direction under her and her brother’s guidance, largely allowing Jim Buss to make calls to better the team’s future.
It’s fair to wonder if Magic will end up being the right call as the team’s new decision-maker, but the former Lakers great has been public about the path the team has gone and has been pining for this role for at least the past year.
Johnson has remained steadfast in his claims that, under his direction, the Lakers could thrive within the next 3-5 years:
“It’s going to take three to five years to get them back rolling again,” Johnson previously said. “If we’re patient and we develop our own players.”
Whether that ends up being the case or not, the turn to Magic shows both a sign of desperation for Jeanie Buss and the Lakers, as well as a team that is very serious about trying to correct their wrongs.
Vlade Divac and Isiah Thomas are two former NBA players that have proven very quickly that not all former NBA icons make great executives, but the success of former players like Steve Kerr and Jerry West leaves the door open for plenty of optimism.
Fallen on Hard Times
Part of the Lakers’ previous process allowed for a Kobe Bryant “retirement tour” a season ago, but the Lakers have now endured three straight brutal seasons, culminating last year in a franchise record 65 losses.
Bringing in a young and vibrant Luke Walton to lead the turn around seemed to be the right (and popular move). The impact of Walton was felt early, as the Lakers raced out to a respectable 10-10 start and were competitive early on in the 2016-17 NBA season.
Injuries, poor defense and a lack of consistently reliable star talent bogged the Lakers down, however, and the once prominent Lake Shows entered the NBA All-Star break sulking as much as ever with a regrettable 19-39 record.
Walton’s first season on the job fortunately has already surpassed what the Lakers accomplished a year ago, but the time was right for the team to begin a completely new direction.
Big Moves Coming?
Part of that new direction will naturally be allowing a bright young coach to keep doing what he’s been doing. Walton preaches defense, sharing the ball within a team offense, constant flow, professionalism and unified trust within his system.
That hasn’t always led to production, but we need to consider the personnel Walton is working with. He worked wonders with the Golden State Warriors, but now has a slew of talented, but inexperienced and often even immature players.
D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram look like the building blocks, but D’Lo has been a headcase with erratic play, both he and Randle have endured a long line of nagging injuries and Ingram is still just a raw, skinny rookie that needs time to develop.
With Walton leading the way and the Lakers out of playoff contention, Magic Johnson will surely lean towards a full-fledged youth movement to close out the year. That process has already been started, with young center Iva Zubac earning run over expensive free agent, Timofey Mozgov.
The same has been the case for Ingram, who has been getting starts over pricey veteran small forward, Luol Deng. That could lead to trade talk over the next two days including both veterans, while scorers Lou Williams and Nick Young have been the two big Lakers names prominently feature in trade rumors.
Based on their skill-sets and contracts, they might be the most valuable trade assets at the moment, too. Of course, that’s if Magic doesn’t see some of the young talent (i.e. Russell, Randle, etc) as anything less than franchise cornerstones. If he’s not as enamored with them as former GM Kupchak was, it’s quite possible part of this new process will be completing starting from scratch – at least to a certain degree.
Will Lakers Be Competitive Again?
It’s tough to give the thumbs up to such a dramatic overhaul with just 24 games to go in the season, but it might be better that it happens now, rather than later in the year.
Only time will tell if Magic Johnson – who has no NBA management experience – will be right for the job, or if he’s even truly qualified. Jeanie Buss is smart and gave her brother and Kupchak plenty of time to prove they had the vision and right elements in place to rebuild the Lakers.
That didn’t happen and now Buss is simply turning to a trusted advisor and long-time Lakers great that seems to think he can make it happen.
It’s going to be a process, but at least it can get started. That could lead to some big trades within the next couple of days, and even if it doesn’t, it could lead to some free agency moves and some splash drafting come the 2017 NBA Draft.
It’s crazy and it’s shocking and it might be the worst move the Lakers have ever made. But for a franchise that is floundering this badly and remains so far away from the consistently elite product they had been for the majority of their existence, it’s a gamble worth taking. And if Magic is remotely as good of an executive as he was a player, it just might be the move that saves this franchise.
The reality is, the Lakers do have some interesting young talent and they do have a great young coach to help mold everything to the fashion they desire. Now they have a change in direction where they need it the most – where it hadn’t been different in years.
Perhaps Magic Johnson is the final tweak in this process that really gets the ball rolling. It will take time, but the beginning of a productive future in L.A. just may have finally arrived.
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