Magic is wrong, this is no time to blow up the Lakers


I grew up in Los Angeles idolizing Magic Johnson. My admiration for the man has grown since he left the game — what he has done as a businessman, and as a spokesman about HIV, has been as impressive as what he did on the court. He’s always seemed both flawed and genuine. He is a genuine hero of mine.

So it pains me to say this — Magic Johnson is totally wrong. This is not the time to blow up the Lakers.

Here is what he said after the game on ESPN (via the Los Angeles Times).

“Dr. Buss has a lot of work to do,” said Johnson. “He’s probably going to have to blow this team up after the season if the Lakers lose this series because you have to come back with some fresh faces. You have to pick between the two big men with which one you keep and then you trade the other one.”

Johnson didn’t aim his criticism solely at the Lakers’ front line, arguing that everybody outside of Kobe Bryant should be considered trade bait in what will be an uncertain off-season….

“The Lakers have two problems,” said Johnson, who sold his 4.5% ownership stake in the Lakers to billionaire season ticket-holder Patrick Soon-Shiong in October but has kept his title as vice president. “They’re too slow and they have no athletes. This is an athletic league now. When you think about all the teams that are in the playoffs right now, they all can run fast and jump high.

“Sometimes you can be together too long,” he continued. “This group has been probably together too long.

Magic is right about some things, like saying that the Lakers lack speed and athleticism — I don’t know how you can argue otherwise. They brought back Derek Fisher at the request of Kobe Bryant who was the only person in Los Angeles who thought that was a good idea. The big problem is that they didn’t give him just one year, they gave him three — Fisher has two more years at $6.8 million total left. Good luck moving that deal.

If Fisher was a backup PG playing 15 minutes a night the damage would not be that serious. He’s not. He’s a starter playing all the key minutes. Because the Lakers brought in Steve Blake to back him up — Blake should have been a better fit in the triangle than he turned out to be. Instead, the Lakers missed Jordan Farmar’s athleticism.

Matt Barnes on the wing did not bring the youth and energy the Lakers needed. Shannon Brown was athletic but inconsistent. Kobe is not the 22-year-old explosive Kobe. Luke Walton has never been explosive.

The Lakers need to look at some trades to get in some athletic players.

But this is not San Antonio or even Boston with a core that is too old to do this again. Kobe is 32 and in good shape despite all the miles on the wheels. Lamar Odom is 31 and just had his best season ever. Pau Gasol is 30. Andrew Bynum 23.

That is not old and only Kobe is past his prime — and he’s not far past it. With those four the Lakers have a few more years of title contention ahead if they can get better, more athletic players around those four.

Magic is completely wrong about trading one of the Lakers two big men. Coming back with fresh faces for the sake of coming back with fresh faces is how you end up with Isiah Thomas’ Knicks roster. The Lakers have the biggest, most skilled front line in the NBA and that is why they won two titles and went to three straight finals. These guys still have quality runs and play left in them, and you can’t match what height and skill bring. Good and tall still beats good and small.

To break that core up because of one bad playoff series is a mistake. That core is as good as any in the NBA still. Gasol had a terrible series against Dallas — that does not negate the two rings he already won. He did not forget how to play. He will tear it up next season. Watch.

The only way you trade one or two of the bigs is if you can get Dwight Howard or someone of that ilk. And by the way, while other team executives and agents love to speculate about how the Magic would do a Howard/Arenas for Bynum/Odom deal, the Magic are not there yet and likely never will be. They are going to spend this summer trying to convince Howard to stay. He is their marquee guy, he is the face of their franchise and they want to keep him. Then the new CBA will come out and looking at numbers Howard may decide he should pick up his $19.5 million extension year. That deal is not happening soon, nor is one for Chris Paul.

The Lakers do not need a blockbuster move to win again. They need to make moves around the core — they need better play at the point and more athleticism on the wings. They need to get younger.

But blow it up because of one series and the Lakers will be taking steps back, not forward.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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