Magic Johnson did a nice job setting up the Lakers to land a star free agent last summer. He even lured the biggest star free agent of all – LeBron James.
And then it all went downhill from there.
Johnson had terrible ideas of how to build a supporting cast around LeBron. The Lakers prioritized their notion of tough playmakers – Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley – over shooters. As if LeBron would truly be content playing off the ball. Of course, the player with the greatest combination of scoring and passing in NBA history wanted the ball in his hands. That left LeBron surrounded by ill-fitting, and just plain not-good-enough, teammates.
How did Johnson think this was a good plan?
Maybe by not working hard enough to come up with a better one.
If Johnson isn’t putting in the work, that’d be a major problem for the Lakers. He wouldn’t be alone throughout the league, and the Lakers have other executives, including general manager Rob Pelinka. But Johnson is in charge of the front office. Running an NBA team’s basketball operations is a hard job that requires a lot of work to do well. It’s on him to move the Lakers forward – especially because he has so much job security.
And no wonder Johnson’s comments after not trading for Anthony Daviswent over so poorly within the Lakers. Executives who build strong connections with their players can get through those situations. It’s much more difficult when the team president isn’t around to establish a bond in the first place.
To be fair, the Lakers were right to pursue Davis. He’s a superstar. The opportunity to land him justified potential chemistry disruptions.
But that wasn’t the Lakers’ only discussed move that showcases the organization’s flaws.
on the weekend of Jan. 25, the Lakers had a tentative deal in place to acquire Bulls forward Jabari Parker in exchange for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Beasley, league sources told The Athletic.
Because he’s on a one-year contract and would have Early Bird Rights, Caldwell-Pope had the right to veto a trade. The Lakers also got into the mix for Davis, putting other deals on the backburner. So, the Parker trade never happened.
But it would have been awful for the Lakers. Parker would have been yet another player who doesn’t do enough without the ball.
At least the Lakers avoided that mistake.
To avoid the next one, they’ll probably need a front-office leader more focused on the job.
Part of the goal this season for the Lakers was to see how their players — from the young core through the veterans on one-year contracts — meshed with LeBron James. Could they play together? That would determine their future with the franchise. Here are the net ratings of other Lakers when paired with LeBron this season:
Rondo, finishing up a one-year contract with the team for $9 million, is a free agent this summer but wants to return to the Lakers, he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“Absolutely,” Rondo told ESPN when asked if he wanted to come back to the Lakers next season. “Absolutely. I mean, the only way we can go from here is up.
“So, I don’t know what the future holds as far as the summer — if I come back, or who else comes back or if I don’t come back. Those things are out of my control. But at the same time, it’s a great organization. I can’t say enough about the staff and the people who work here. They’re really kind and helpful, so I want to continue, if I can, help this organization grow…
“As far as long term, maybe not like a six-year deal, but you know, I’m only 33.”
What happens to Rondo — and McGee, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and everyone else on one-year contracts (and even guys on longer-term deals) — is completely up in the air. The Lakers are going to go big game hunting in free agency (or via trade) this summer, looking to get another star to pair with LeBron, then every other roster decision will come after that move. Plus, the Lakers almost certainly will have a new coach, and they would be smart to get bench and role players that fit with the style-of-play that coach prefers.
Injuries — and a suspension for spitting in the face of Chris Paul — have limited Rondo to 42 games this season with the Lakers, where he averaged 8.7 points and 7.9 assists per game. Luke Walton has praised Rondo’s decision making and leadership on the court, and he’s improved to shoot 35.6 percent from three. That said he struggled with his shot inside the arc and has a troubling true shooting percentage of 47. His defense is an issue, he was once an outstanding defender but those days are gone. Rondo is, at this point, at best a replacement level NBA player.
The Lakers might bring him back anyway. This front office is unpredictable.
Report: Pelicans blame Lakers for leaking Anthony Davis trade-talk details
Quibble with the methodology, but the Lakers were right to strongly pursue Davis. He’s a special player.
They’re just dealing with the fallout now.
Presumably, the Lakers will try again to acquire Davis this summer. How will they build trust with New Orleans then?
The Pelicans will likely have the same owner, Gayle Benson, and same New Orleans Saints influence that dug in their heels against sending Davis to Los Angeles. Though general manager Dell Demps got fired, interim and potential long-term replacement Danny Ferry was in the organization for prior trade talks, too.
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Activated? Disconnect more like it. Laker bench veterans disaster in an ugly loss to Grizzlies. How much trouble are the Lakers playoff hopes in? Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Clippers and Spurs to finish with 44 wins and get the final two playoff seeds in the West. For the Lakers to get to 45 wins and be in they need to go 16-6 the rest of the way.
LeBron James said he activated playoff mode early — and Monday night he had a triple-double of 24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists (which moved him into fifth, past Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time triple-double list) — but the Laker bench was a disaster in a 110-105 loss to a Memphis team that traded away Marc Gasol, is without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson due to injury, and is trying to lose games so they keep their pick in the draft. Yet those Grizzlies played with more poise, cohesion, and passion.
Rather than put shooters around LeBron, Magic said the Lakers wanted to go their own way, bring in the veteran playmakers, but only the ones they could get on one-year deals. This is the result. The Lakers get pushed around inside, they lack a game-managing point guard (Rondo isn’t that guy anymore, and it is not Lonzo Ball’s strength, plus Ball is out with a bone bruise in his ankle anyway) and they have stopped caring on defense. And if LeBron wants to complain about defensive effort, well…
Kyle Kuzma had 22 points in his one. He continues to play consistently well.
Which is to say the guys at the heart of all those Anthony Davis trade talks were just fine, maybe the trade talks did not destroy the psyche of this team. It’s the veterans that are the issue.
Going 16-6 seems like a longshot at best after this loss. The way the Lakers are defending right now, they might as well start ending their team huddles with “1-2-3 Cancun.”
2) James Harden’s 30+ points per game streak comes to an end in Rockets win over Hawks. It had to end eventually. And when James Harden’s streak of 30+ point games did end it was not going to be because some team just locked him down, it was going to be a game where he didn’t need to take over to get the win.
That’s what happened in Atlanta.
Harden wasn’t sharp — 7-of-21 shooting to get to 28 points — but this was a night he could be off and the Rockets still got the 119-111 victory.
Harden had 28 as time ran down, but rather than go for 30 he dribbled it out — while the Hawks threw a quadruple-team at him just in case.
Harden’s streak reached 32 games, second longest 30+ points streak ever behind Wilt Chamberlain’s ridiculous 65 games. Harden admitted he didn’t expect to reach that number. So he settles for the second-longest streak ever, and in doing so got his team back in the playoff picture and himself back in the MVP race.
For the Hawks, Trae Young knocked down eight three-pointers and scored 36 on the night.
3) Classy move by Doc Rivers in tribute to Dirk Nowitzki. And by the way, the Clippers look like a playoff team. With 9.4 seconds remaining in a decided game (the Clippers won 121-112), Doc Rivers called a timeout. He then walked over to the scorer’s table, picked up a microphone, and got the crowd at Staples Center to give Dirk Nowitzki one last standing ovation.
Classy move by Rivers.
This was a big win for Los Angeles, which is now in sole possession of seventh place in the West. On a night where the Lakers/Kings/Spurs all lost the idea of the Clippers in the postseason seems more secure, much to the delight of owner Steve Ballmer. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Clippers with a 75 percent chance of making the postseason.
Which is incredible for a team that two trade deadlines in a row has sent away its best player (Blake Griffin last year, Tobias Harris this year). The Clippers were shrewd with those moves, staying competitive while setting themselves up to be bigtime players in free agency.
This season the Clippers have leaned on Lou Williams to score, watched Montrezl Harrell develop into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in his own right, and had solid seasons from veterans such as Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari (who has stayed healthy this year), plus the move of trading up in the draft to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems. The Clippers rebuilt on the fly — all while freeing up cap space to chase two max free agents next summer.
The Clippers have been a model “how to rebuild on the fly” example, and this summer may land Kawhi Leonard or another free agent, they are in the mix for the big names. Do that, and this will be one of the great rebuilds of all time in the league.
Magic Johnson backtracks on hugging untraded Lakers
“It’s a part of business, it’s a part of being a professional athlete,” he said Saturday. “I’m going to hug ’em and tell them that we got to come together and our goal is still in reach, which is to make the playoffs.”
I’m not that guy. I’m not the guy who, “Ohhhh, I’m going to hold. I’m going to go up and hug guys.” I’m not that dude.
Quit making this about thinking these guys are babies, because that’s what you’re treating them like. They’re professionals. All of them. And this is how this league works. They know it. I know it. That’s how it goes.
What’s worse, your team trying to trade you for a superstar or your boss pledging to hug you then rescinding the offer? Either way, tough times for Lakers players.