Last week Magic Johnson shockingly stepped down as the Lakers president of basketball operations. This happened hours before the Lakers regular-season finale against Portland. Nobody saw this coming, not even owner Jeanie Buss nor LeBron James, who Johnson signed this past offseason.
This seemed like such a poetic way for the Lakers season to end, a season in which they failed to qualify for the playoffs for a sixth-straight season. This marked the first time since 2005 that James failed to make the postseason.
Johnson said in his impromptu press conference “I couldn’t face her to tell her,” when talking about Buss.
Before this bombshell was dropped, there were rumors about the future of head coach Luke Walton. It was reported that Walton was likely out, yet he and Johnson hadn’t spoken in weeks. Johnson stated that he did not want to be the person to tell someone else that their livelihood could change.
It never seemed like Johnson was fully invested and has even been described as an “absentee executive,” as he wouldn’t be in the office a lot. Johnson also did not like the NBA’s tampering rules and said he wanted to tell Russell Westbrook congratulations – after he posted a 20-20-20 triple-double in a game he dedicated to the late Nipsey Hustle – but he couldn’t due to not wanting to get in trouble with the league. Johnson enjoys his freedom to do as he pleases and now he’s going to do just that.
Magic Johnson is arguably the greatest Laker ever. However, he proved that he isn’t ready to be an NBA executive. Since taking the job in February of 2017, Johnson traded away a young, budding star in D’Angelo Russell, who has really been unleashed in Brooklyn. The Lakers drafted Russell’s replacement in Lonzo Ball, who the jury is still out on as he has often times been injured, despite a bunch of red flags, including Ball’s dad, LaVar. Johnson also failed to re-sign young forward Julius Randle, who had a stellar first season in New Orleans.
At the trade deadline, Johnson tried trading all the young stars to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis. New Orleans never took the offers seriously, out of spite for alleged tampering. A few weeks later, in March, the Lakers were eliminated from playoff contention.
A month later and Johnson was out. Now the future of general manager Rob Pelinka, a former agent, is in limbo. The duo was brought in to turn the franchise around and get them back to a prestigious, championship-caliber team, yet failed to do so.
Walton and the Lakers mutually parted ways last Friday and since, the former was announced as the Sacramento Kings new head coach on Monday. It never seemed like Walton would be around long, even after Johnson stepped down. He didn’t fully have the respect of James, and that is something that just can’t happen at this stage in [James] career.
Now that Walton is out, the Lakers will look to find his replacement. As of this writing, there are three serious contenders to fill the vacancy. All three have some sort of tie to James, which is vital for the franchise moving forward. On that same note, the Lakers have to find a guy who is not only a James-approved guy, but also one that can continue to develop the young talent around James.
According to reports, the leading candidate to land the job is Ty Lue, who is the only available coach to have won a championship with James. Lue was the head coach in Cleveland when the Cavaliers knocked off the Golden State Warriors in one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history. The biggest concern with Lue is whether or not he will have the patience to develop the young Lakers stars. Lue didn’t do a good job of that in Cleveland and it showed when James was on the bench.
The second candidate is current Philadelphia 76ers assistant Monty Williams, who the Lakers got permission to talk to and will do so this week. Williams’ tie toe James stems from being an assistant on the US Olympic team. Another reason Williams is a candidate is the fact he used to coach Davis in New Orleans. So the thought process is maybe he can help in the negotiations to try and trade for Davis, who is the Lakers star of choice to pair with James. During his tenure with New Orleans, he compiled a record of 173-221 and only made the playoffs one time. So his firing was just and maybe now he will have a chance at redemption after being an assistant in Oklahoma City and currently Philadelphia.
The third candidate that is being seriously considered is Juwan Howard, a former teammate of James in Miami. Here’s the kicker though; Howard has no head coaching experience at any level. When he was with the Heat, he joined the coaching staff while James was still playing and learned from Erik Spoelstra, who obviously had success with James. So the trust and familiarity are there, if the Lakers choose to pull the trigger and go that route.
Once the Lakers figure out who will be the next head coach, the franchise will then turn its attention to the upcoming NBA draft and free agency. Los Angeles is seeking a star or two to pair with James and it will be interesting to see if and how that plan comes to fruition.
There is a plethora of big-time free agents that the Lakers could look at, and they can also explore trade options.
The season did not go as planned for the Lakers, especially since they were able to sign James last offseason. But to be fair, Los Angeles was struck by the injury bug quite often, including James missing 18-games with a groin injury. When James, Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram were all on the floor together, the Lakers were 15-8, but injuries altered any more success. The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most prestigious franchise in NBA history, yet you wouldn’t know that by the past six seasons.
This offseason could prove to be one of the biggest in franchise history, good or bad.