“I probably waited too long, for that I apologize to Laker fans”. These were the words of Jeanie Buss as she explained the firing of her brother Jim Buss and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.
To many Laker fans, the apology was a confirmation of what many believed was monumental mistake. The decision to hand over the franchise to Jim Buss immediately jump started what would turn out to be the worst period in Lakers franchise history. The Lakers have averaged 60 losses in three years under Jim Buss and are on pace for a 50 plus loss season this year. Countless failed meetings with big name free agents and a slew of puzzling signings are what will define the Jim Buss era and whether some thought it was fair or not, Kupchak, the long time Lakers GM was shown the exit along with Buss.
Enter Magic Johnson. On January 18th, it was reported that Magic and Jeanie were spotted having dinner. These were the first signs that the Lakers may be in for a shakeup. Although both parties tried to downplay the meeting, two weeks later on February 2nd he was hired with the Lakers in an advisory role. At this point it was only a matter of time and Jim and Mitch may have seen the writing on the wall.
It would appear that this was the case, as the pair negotiated a Demarcus Cousins trade, leaving Magic and Jeanie completely in the dark. Acquiring Cousins was likely a final attempt to save their jobs. Adrian Wojnarowski would go on to report that the Lakers refused to part ways with rookie Brandon Ingram in the deal. Magic and Jeanie were alerted of the trade discussions only after Cousins had been traded to New Orleans on Sunday night. The following Monday morning, Magic Johnson was announced as president of basketball operations and Rob Pelinka, most notably Kobe Bryant’s agent, would be in line to be the new GM.
Magic Johnson will have a lot of work to do, and while being charming and synonymous with winning Lakers basketball, there are some that have doubts. Magic Johnsons first journey into the NBA as a non player was a coaching stint with the Lakers in 1994 that only lasted 16 games. He went 5-11 and resigned at the seasons end. Other detractors will point to numerous Tweets over the years where Magic offered his basketball opinions. He at one point called Michael Carter Williams the next Jason Kidd, in another tweet he said he would draft Brandon Knight with the first pick in the draft. Considering where both players are in their careers, his early evaluations of both players has turned out to be extremely off base to say the least.
Past coaching failures and questionable Tweets aside, Magic has moved swiftly in his short time as president. Only a few hours after being named, he was working the phones and swung a deal with the Houston Rockets to land the Lakers a first round pick and Corey Brewer in exchange for Lou Williams. The move was no surprise at all, as the Lakers will essentially use the second half of the season to tank. Trading away their best player was merely a formality in their attempt to hold on their 2017 draft pick. In a last minute trade deadline deal, Johnson traded Marcelo Huertas to Houston for third year guard Tyler Ennis. While neither trades are major, all signs point the Johnson and the Lakers aiming for youth and upside as the season winds down. As the trade deadline came down to the final hour, Magic embarked on a bidding war with his old rival Larry Bird, as he attempted to bring in Paul George from the Pacers. The Pacers in the end decided against trading George, but he will surely be a topic of trade conversation during the offseason and well into next season.
The Lakers now have a new, but familiar face of the franchise. Magic provides the Lakers with a respectable, basketball legend when he enters the room to negotiate trades and sweet talk free agent prospects. One thing is very clear, Magic Johnson deeply cares about restoring the Lakers reputation as one of the best organizations in all of sports. He, more than anyone, understands what it’s like to play for a franchise that is considered the best of the best. Will Magic be able to restore that feeling in Los Angeles? Only time will tell.