Magic Johnson sells his shares of the Lakers, looks to purchase another team

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Magic Johnson has nothing to do with the Lakers.

Well, not exactly, he will forever be a Laker in everyone’s minds, forever wearing the “Forum blue and gold” in the hearts of Lakers fans. But now he has no actual ties to the team

Magic Johnson is selling his shares of the Lakers.

“After heavy deliberation and a weighing heart, I have decided to sell my share of the Lakers to Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong…” Johnson said in a press release on the Lakers Web site. “I am truly humbled to have been a Lakers player for 13 years and an owner for over 10 years. I thank Dr. Buss from the deepest part of my heart and soul for allowing me such an incredible opportunity. I will continue to work alongside Dr. Buss, Jeanie Buss and Mitch Kupchak in their efforts to continually build and maintain the best NBA franchise in the league. This was a bittersweet business decision made on behalf of my family and myself, and I want to assure all the wonderful and loyal Lakers fans that my decision will in no way affect my dedication and support for the Los Angeles Lakers. I am and will always be a Laker for life.”

“The sale of Earvin’s share of the team is a business decision which will not change our relationship,” Lakers owner Jerry Buss said in the same release. “Our friendship goes well beyond business. Patrick is a long-time and passionate Lakers fan and we are delighted to have him as a partner.”

Magic Johnson wants a larger role in team ownership and talked about that back in August. He wants more of a Michael Jordan role in Charlotte, as one of or the main face of franchise ownership. That was never going to happen with the Lakers, where the Buss family has no plans to sell. Magic’s name came up on the periphery of the sales of the Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons (and that Pistons sale has yet to go through and Magic is from Michigan and… we’re just speculating here).

But you cannot own parts of two NBA franchises, so Magic had to get out of the Lakers before he could be serious elsewhere.

It makes sense why he did it, but still it feels unsettling and wrong. Magic Johnson is as much a Laker as anyone, and if you doubt that watch one night here in Los Angeles at how many people get their picture taken with his statue out in front of Staples Center. He is a Laker icon. A Los Angeles icon for his work with HIV/AIDS and off the field bringing business to the inner-city.

This has happened other places — Larry Bird may run the Pacers but he is forever a Celtic. The same is true here. Still feels odd.

As for the new Lakers owner, Dr. Soon-Shiong, we don’t know much — except that he is the richest man in Los Angeles, worth an estimated $7.1 billion. How did he get so rich? The official release from the Lakers has some of the details, but suffice to say he is just smarter than you and me.

Dr. Soon-Shiong, a Lakers season seat holder for more than 25 years, is Chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, Chairman and CEO of All About Advanced Health and founder of the National Coalition for Health Integration. He is the Executive Director of the UCLA Wireless Health Institute and Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, Molecular Genetics and Bioengineering at UCLA. Dr. Soon-Shiong is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. In 1993, he performed the world’s first encapsulated human islet transplant and the first pig to man islet cell transplant in diabetic patients.

“It is an honor for me to be part of the Lakers family and the nation’s foremost basketball franchise,” said Soon-Shiong. “The Lakers’ leadership and spirit of community engendered by Dr. Jerry Buss and his family is an inspiration to us all. Our family looks forward to a future filled with the excitement this team brings to the city and the nation. Earvin Johnson is a shining example of excellence on and off the court, and it is a privilege to have acquired his ownership position.”

Report: James Harden, Khris Middleton nearing return to court

Indiana Pacers v Philadelphia 76ers
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Two of the East’s top teams are about to get key stars back.

Milwaukee has been without Khris Middleton all season as he recovers from off-season wrist surgery. Philadelphia has been without James Harden for a dozen games with a right foot tendon sprain. Both are nearing a return, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Milwaukee has a 14-5 record and sits as the two seed in the East, but they have done that on the back of the best defense in the league, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. The Bucks’ offense is 18th in the league overall and bottom 10 in half-court possessions, an area Middleton should help shore up.

Philadelphia has gone 8-4 in the dozen games Harden has missed so far and has the best defense in the NBA over that stretch. The question becomes can the 76ers continue to defend like that when Harden (and, eventually, Tyrese Maxey) returns? Players such as B-Ball Paul Reed, Shake Milton and Tobias Harris have stepped up in recent games, can they continue that with shifting roles?

While there are questions, the Bucks and 76ers are about to get better, which should worry the rest of the league.

Myles Turner says he’s staying focused, tuning out trade rumors

Minnesota Timberwolves v Indiana Pacers
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Myles Turner heard his name come up all summer in trade rumors, particularly to the Lakers in a massive Russell Westbrook swap. It never happened as the Lakers would not throw in two first-round picks to seal the deal. Since the season started, the trade rumors around Turner have not stopped, with the Clippers mentioned as having interest.

Turner is trying to ignore all of it.

That was especially difficult on a recent swing through Los Angeles, and Turner spoke to Law Murray from The Athletic about it.

“Nothing changes,” Turner told The Athletic.”Just go out there and focus on getting wins for this team. That’s just where my focus lies. You can’t pay attention to outside noise … doesn’t change anything, bro. All I can do is go out there and play my game.”

Every player says some version of that, but Turner has lived up to it. Able to play his natural spot at the five without Domantas Sabonis sharing the paint (Sabonis was sent to the Kings in a trade that brought back Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana), Turner is averaging a career-high 18 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, while shooting 39.7% from 3. Plus, Turner remains an elite rim-protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per game (second in the league).

Turner is playing the best basketball of his career, coincidentally as he heads into summer as a free agent.

Whatever team trades for him will have to pay him next summer impacts Turner’s trade market, as does the fact that the Pacers are a surprising 12-8 start — Indiana is reportedly not as eager to trade Turner. If a team wants to trade for him, they are going to have to overwhelm the Pacers.

Turner has hinted he likes the idea of a brighter spotlight than he has seen in recent years, but in the end money will talk. Turner has kept his head down and his play this season has earned him more of it.

Damian Lillard reportedly targeting Sunday for return from calf strain

Portland Trail Blazers v Cleveland Cavaliers
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How much the Portland Trail Blazers miss Damian Lillard was on clear display Tuesday night in maybe their ugliest loss of the season. The Trail Blazers led by 18 in the second half, Anfernee Simons was on his way to putting up 37, and they were facing a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. Yet Portland came from ahead to lose. Their defense was bested by the unstoppable offensive weapon that is Nicholas Batum (32 points). Portland just let go of the rope in this one.

The Trail Blazers are now 1-4 with Lillard out with a strained calf (the second time this year). The good news for the Blazers is Lillard is targeting Sunday against the Pacers for a return, reports Chris Haynes of TNT.

Haynes is well connected with the Lillard camp, this is a report that can be trusted.

Portland is trying to keep its head above water and is now 11-10 on the season but has struggled this past week, with games at the Lakers and at the Jazz before Lillard’s targeted return.

Lillard is averaging 26.3 points and seven assists a game this season, showing the explosion we were used to seeing before he was slowed by an abdominal injury that required surgery.

Bulls extended coach Billy Donovan before season started

Denver Nuggets v Chicago Bulls
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Bulls’ fans are not thrilled with a 9-11 team sitting 11th in the East, outside the play-in.

Bulls’ management is not either, but they aren’t laying the blame at the feet of coach Billy Donovan — in fact, they extended him just before the season began, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and since confirmed by Bulls’ media relations staff to K.C. Johnson NBC Sports Chicago.

Why the extension? Because Donovan and head of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas have a tight relationship, Johnson writes.

Karnišovas’ continued belief in Donovan centers on Donovan’s leadership and communication skills. The two men talk virtually daily and there’s never any misunderstanding in their shared, direct conversation — even when the subject matter becomes difficult.

And not everything has been or continues to be smooth sailing for the Bulls, who have played without Lonzo Ball since January and are off to a 9-11 start in a season with modest outside expectations.

No details about the length of the extension were made public.

This is a decision about stability. Donovan is a solid coach and the front office trusts him. That’s enough to get some extra years on your deal in Chicago.

The Bulls’ issues are not because of Donovan, it’s more a roster that has a “playoff team but not much more” ceiling — a ceiling that is lower this season due to injuries forcing constantly shifting rotations. The Bulls are especially hamstrung without the defense and transition play of Lonzo Ball (still out after another knee surgery). Chicago has defended well this season without Ball (10th in the league), but the offense is bottom 10 and misses the easy buckets Ball helps get with his passing and transition (plus he can knock down some 3s). Donovan has done a respectable job with the players he has.

That is good enough in Chicago to get a few more years.