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Report: Lakers president Magic Johnson viewed as ‘absentee executive’

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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.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Johnson is seen as an absentee executive

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.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss has repeatedly stated her faith in Johnson. She also defended Phil Jackson after the Knicks firing him despite him being unprepared, out of touch, unavailable and low energy. Buss just might have too much patience for lackluster work ethics, especially by people she’s close with.

And no wonder Johnson’s comments after not trading for Anthony Davis went 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.

Oram:

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.

Dwyane Wade given warm send off, piece of parquet floor in final game in Boston

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Dwyane Wade has been a villain in Boston.

It dates back to Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, where Miami was up 2-0 but Boston had come home. In the third quarter of that game, Wade had the ball and was isolated on Rajon Rondo near the top of the key when Rondo poked the ball free, Wade seemed to tie up Rondo to keep him from getting the loose ball, and the two went to the ground hard. That dislocated Rondo’s elbow. Boston’s comeback was doomed and Wade became the villain.

Wade was booed every time he returned to the Garden after that.

Until Monday.

Wade played his final game against the Celtics on Tuesday and was given a warm and respectful ovation when he entered the game midway through the first quarter. Throughout the game, fans showed their respect for the future Hall of Famer.

Before the game, Celtics president Danny Ainge gave Wade a piece of the parquet — and said he’ll finally forgive him for the Rondo injury.

After the game, Wade talked about how games in the Garden and against the Celtics helped define him — and how he was touched by the gesture (hat tip NBC Sports Boston).

“I appreciate [the parquet] from Danny Ainge and the owners of the team,” said Wade. “We’ve had so many battles in the playoffs. I appreciate the respect they showed me as a player to present me with that plaque, present me with a piece of the history of the Celtics. That was so cool. I definitely didn’t expect it at all. I just want to thank them for that gesture….

“We’ve had a lot of playoff battles, a lot that I’ve lost and a lot that I’ve won,” said Wade. “This is another one of those franchises that helped myself and this organization know what it took to win and get to that next level. We had to beat this organization to get there once [Miami] developed the Big Three [with LeBron James]. Appreciate them for pushing us. They were the big brother for a long time and then we initially were able to match a little bit. We’re thankful for what they did for us from their standpoint.”

Rajon Rondo hopes to return to Lakers next season

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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:

Josh Hart: +4.8
Lonzo Ball: +3.1
Kyle Kuzma: +2.9
JaVale McGee: +1.6
Brandon Ingram: +0.9
Rajon Rondo: -5.5

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.

LeBron James on Lakers’ roster construction stylistically: [fart noise]

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After signing LeBron James, the Lakers emphasized tough-mindedness, playmaking and defense in building his supporting cast. Complementary shooting was deemphasized. That meant signing players like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

The results have been horrendous. Those players just aren’t good enough, even at the skills the Lakers coveted. Exacerbating the problem, those players also fit poorly with LeBron, who predictably took the ball back into his own hands.

The Cavaliers and Heat showed how well shooters complement LeBron. He’s lethal with space, and his forceful drives/passing ability creates numerous open long-range looks. If those shooters can also defend, that LeBron-led team is on the path to contention.

Instead, LeBron’s floormates shot just 33% on 3-pointers this season. That’s by far the lowest in the last dozen years, as far back as NBA.com has data. Here’s the 3-point shooting of LeBron’s floormates by season:

image

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

What did James think of the Lakers’ grand experiment? How did he view the idea of prioritizing playmaking over shooting.

“That experiment?” James said of the roster construction for his first season in L.A.

James stared out onto the court for a moment, turned his attention back to the conversation, pursed his lips and stuck out his tongue as he trumpeted air out of his mouth, making a raspberry sound.

“THBPBPTHPT!”

Before signing with the Lakers, LeBron put out word he wanted to play off the ball more. Lakers president Magic Johnson said LeBron signed off on the team’s additions last summer.

And this is the response now that the plan (predictably) failed?

This is the difficulty of managing LeBron. He sometimes has roster input, but he’s not there to take blame when moves go wrong.

He has earned that power. LeBron brings so much positive to an organization, the people around him must deal with the drawbacks. It can just be frustrating.

It’s Johnson’s job, though. He must get the Lakers to the next stage.

On the bright side, the Lakers signed all these ill-fitting players to only one-year contracts. As I wrote last summer about the Lakers’ plan for this season:

I’m doubtful.

At least the Lakers have the young players (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart) and cap space next summer to re-tool if this plan fails.

LeBron James talks missing playoffs: ‘It’s not what we signed up for’

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For the first time in 13 years, LeBron James will not be in the playoffs.

While a few hearty souls predicted the Lakers would fall short of the postseason — shout out to Tim Bontemps of ESPN — the conventional wisdom was the presence of LeBron was enough to lift the Lakers at least into the playoffs. That was certainly the expectation within the organization (where many thought things were more like home court in the first round good). A combination of a poorly constructed roster, injuries, and a perfect storm of little things all added up to the Lakers missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

Here is what LeBron James said after the Lakers’ loss to Brooklyn Saturday that officially knocked Los Angeles out of the playoffs. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s not what we signed up for. Throughout the year, things happened. Suspensions, injuries, things of that nature. And just not being able to play sustainable basketball for 48 minutes. But you don’t even try to wrap your head around it, you just keep pushing. Just try to get better tonight, move on to tomorrow, and go from there. Playoffs are never promised. You’ve got to come out and work. For me personally, you just continue to put the work in and see what you can do to help.”

There were a lot of things that kept the Lakers out, but on Christmas Day the Lakers had just beaten (a very disinterested) Warriors team, were 20-14, the four seed in the West, and with a top-10 defense. However, in that game LeBron injured his groin and missed the next 17 Lakers games, and even when he returned was not completely right and his old self (how much of that is the injury and how much of that is father time is a matter of speculation). LeBron couldn’t lift this team up like he had previous teams, and there was not enough talent on this roster to lift him up (and the good young talent there was kept getting injured).

Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed he guys they did — Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley — to maintain cap space for this summer. Now the pressure is on them to do something with that money to get both another star and a better supporting cast around LeBron.

Now what for No. 23? LeBron is not shutting it down.

“I’m probably going to have a conversation with the coaching staff and my trainer and go from there,” he said. “But I love to hoop. S—, I’m going to have five months and not play the game. So, you know, hopefully I can be in as many games as possible.”