Sunday, Magic Johnson was in Staples Center doing spin control.
Last Tuesday, Johnson reportedly dressed down Laker coach Luke Walton about the team’s slow start (2-5 at the time, 4-6 now after getting thrashed by the Raptors Sunday). As word of the meeting leaked out, speculation about the fate of Luke Walton grew on social media. Fair or not. Magic and GM Rob Pelinka didn’t hire Walton, and did LeBron James back him?
So there was Magic on Sunday, in Staples Center, trying to drop water on the flames he helped create. Magic spoke to Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“Yeah, we’re not going to fire him,” Johnson told ESPN… “[The meeting last week with Walton] wasn’t even a meeting about that. We just have to be better, and that was it.”
And to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
“I said it, Luke took it and we’re all good,” Johnson told The Times. “It’s no big deal…
“He’s going to finish the season,” Johnson said. “Unless something drastic happens, which it won’t.”
Team presidents getting frustrated with coaches during a rough patch is about as common as a Stephen Curry three around the NBA. Magic can be right in saying that this was nothing out of the ordinary and got blown out of proportion.
However, Magic has been with the Lakers long enough to know that everything gets blown out of proportion with this team. He has to know that news of these kinds of meetings will leak and he has to know what the optics are like. Magic is not with the team daily — that’s GM Rob Pelinka — so when he parachutes in and chews people out he has to understand how that is going to play out in the world.
Magic also has to know that the Lakers’ struggles are more about him than Walton. While the Lakers landed LeBron in the offseason, they surrounded him with young players still trying to figure out their games and where they fit in the league, and a group of mismatched veterans they could get on one-year contracts. This was not a team built to contend, and it was always going to be a rough start as the team started to figure out how to fit. Walton is trying to guide that, but it’s a process.
A process Walton gets to continue. At least until the end of the season.