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In wake of Magic’s surprise, pressure falls on Jeanie Buss to be bold

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Jerry Buss was a gambler, a poker player.

The legendary Laker owner — under whom the franchise won 10 NBA titles and became the biggest brand in the sport — understood risks but also when to take them. He had an almost intuitive grasp of when it was time to be bold.

Now it is time for Jeanie Buss to show what she learned from her father.

Magic Johnson’s surprise resignation Tuesday night as the head of basketball operations completely caught the Lakers’ off guard — Jeanie Buss didn’t know it was coming, coach Luke Walton (who expected to be fired within the next 24 hours) didn’t know it was coming, and LeBron James and his team had no warning of this.

Magic’s decision can be a very good thing for the Lakers — he was not good at this job.

Magic was able to seal the deal with LeBron and bring him to the Lakers (how much work that really took is up for debate), but beyond that he fell short. Magic was a part-time executive who, sources told NBC Sports last summer, “parachutes in” a few days a month, makes a lot of pronouncements, then disappears again. Head of basketball operations is a full-time, hands-on job if done right. It’s not glamorous. Combine that with Magic’s confused ideas about team building — saying they had shooting but what they really needed was more playmaking around LeBron, something he saw watching the playoffs last season — which proved to be wrong, and the roster became a mess. Then there was his poor handling of the Anthony Davis trade situation midseason, which destroyed the already crumbling chemistry of the Lakers. There are also rumors of a major harassment story about Magic with the Lakers coming soon, something serious enough for Magic to tell the L.A. Times the story was not true.

Under Magic, the Lakers never built a cultural identity under Magic. For years now the Lakers have acted like the Lakers’ brand — doing things “the Lakers way” — is an organizational culture. It’s not. They need to build one.

That starts with Jeanie Buss, the most capable of Jerry’s children to run the Lakers’ franchise.

Jerry Buss understood the power of hiring good people (Jerry West as head of basketball ops, for example) and empowering them. Jeanie Buss seems willing to do that, she let Magic have the power he needed (she reportedly gave him the green light to fire Walton), he was just not up to the task.

Now it falls to Jeanie Buss to be bold, to reach outside her comfort zone and bring in the person who can give the Lakers direction again.

Do not think “Laker way” or someone with ties to the organization. Be bold and get the best person, give them power and get out of the way.

Pick up the phone and call the best team presidents out there. The Lakers may not be able to pry Sam Presti out of Oklahoma City, but call. Bob Myers may be impossible to get out of Golden State, but pick up the phone and try. There are others to try. This is where the Laker brand still has real currency — this is a coveted job. The Lakers should be able to hire an elite person for it.

Maybe that’s David Griffin, the former Cavaliers and Suns GM who built a title team around LeBron in Cleveland (then was let go because… go ask Dan Gilbert, nobody else can figure it out). He is the best “free agent” out there, a guy with a proven track record who understands culture building and team management. And LeBron. Look at what he told NBC Sports about the Lakers’ handling of their young players during the Anthony Davis trade situation.

“Again, if you don’t get in front of it from a leadership standpoint, if you let it just happen, the proliferation of sports media and social media, it just creates so much around your players that, to some degree, if you’re not telling them how to decipher it, they can’t help but to take it poorly. You need to do a really deft job as a leader of getting people to ignore those things. I think Kevin Durant called it a ‘toxic’ environment around a LeBron James team. I don’t think he meant that relative to LeBron and his actions. I think he meant it just relative to the sheer volume of noise around a team. That takes getting used to.”

Griffin also said this about his next job.

“As I look at it now, the thing that would attract me to an opportunity is just the opportunity to be in lockstep with ownership. To have ownership, the coach, and the front office all on the same page moving forward and sharing a vision… You have to raise a family, and if you’re not going to come at it with that approach it’s probably not a situation that would speak to me.”

Are the Lakers a family still?

Jeanie Buss needs to make sure it is still one, but that will require bold steps and strokes. It’s on her now to lead. She’s seen first hand how to do it.

 

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.