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.