February 21, 2017, the day the Los Angeles Lakers fortune would change for the better as Magic Johnson was named President of Basketball Operations by owner Jeannie Buss. Arguably the best, and most popular Lakers player of all-time had come home to bring the once great organization back to glory. However, things have not gone as planned and majority of the blame falls on Magic’s shoulders.
There have been multiple bad decisions made by Magic and his right hand man Rob Pelinka since they came into power. Bad trades, bad free agent signings, and even some bad moments when addressing the team with the media. He has had some bright spots such as signing LeBron James, and drafting a stud in Kyle Kuzma late in the draft, but as of right now, the negatives out weigh the positives.
Giving Up on D’angelo Russell and Julius Randle
The Los Angeles Lakers have proven one thing over the past five seasons. They know how to draft. Picking up D’angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball with lottery picks, while finding steals late in the draft with Kyle Kuzma, Larry Nance jr., Josh Hart, and Ivica Zubac.
However since Magic has took control of basketball decisions, a lot of that talent has been removed from the roster, with the two big names being D’angelo Russell, and Julius Randle.
In the Summer of 2017, Magic decided to trade Russell (former #2 pick) to the Brooklyn Nets. This has been the single biggest mistake in the Magic Johnson era. Russell has gone on to Brooklyn, made an Allstar team, has the Nets in the playoffs, oh and he is just in year 4 of his career. Magic did not see Russell as a leader, but what 19 year old is a leader anyway. It takes time to grow into a leadership role, exactly what has happened for Russell in Brooklyn.
There was also an idea that if the Lakers drafted Lonzo that there would be no room for Russell. Again, that is incorrect as Russell plays as a combo guard playing both on and off the ball with Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Even Lonzo Ball said he thinks he and Russell could have complimented each others game.
Me too, Zo. Me too. pic.twitter.com/WGJOwSAg6T
— Ry (@JustRyCole) March 20, 2019
Just take a look at Russell’s season so far. He is averaging 20.7 points and 7 assists per game. Not one young member of the Lakers have mirrored those numbers this season for a consistent stretch. Russell was also nominated to the all star game, and the Lakers have been looking to pair LeBron with an all star all season long.
On to Julius Randle. Magic decided to let Julius Randle walk as a free agent after renouncing his rights. Randle later signed with the Pelicans for about $8 million dollars which has been the best bargain in the NBA this season. He is averaging 21.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and bullying anyone in his path. So why you ask Magic let Randle walk for nothing? Well he couldn’t find the $8 million for Randle because he just needed to throw $12 million dollars at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and another $8 million at Rajon Rondo. Two players who have been counter productive to the team for most of the season.
Magic’s decision to move on from these two young, developing talents have been very detrimental to both the short and long term success of the Lakers.
Free Agent Signings
With the exception of LeBron James, Magic Johnson has not been good when it comes to signing free agents. Just take a look at the team he surrounded LeBron and the young core with. Rajon Rondo, not a terrible pick up as he had his games early on in the season that showcased his abilities. But as the season progressed, his weaknesses were exposed and he never was an ideal fit on a team with so many ball handlers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was another bad signing. His terrible play making decisions and late game shot attempt have cost the Lakers multiple games over the course of the season. Even guys like JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson, who have produced in their limited minutes on the court, were not ideal fits to play with LeBron. Neither of them are guys who can space the floor, something LeBron James needs.
The point being, Magic has failed to provide a supporting cast that could max out the abilities of the core.
The Trade Deadline and Ailing Team Chemistry
The aggressive, and sloppy attempt to trade for Anthony Davis ruined the Lakers season just as much as the injuries did. For two weeks leading up to the trade deadline, every media outlet’s top story was a new trade package the Lakers offered the Pelicans for Davis. Trade packages of the young core mixed with veterans for Davis ruined the team chemistry as the rumors weighed heavily on their shoulders. While the young guys seemed to play at the same level, and in the case of Ingram improve his play, it was the veterans who’s play declined along with the cohesiveness on defense. Finger pointing and the blame game started from LeBron James, down to the last man on the bench with each blown coverage by the defense, something that was rare early in the season. When players fell to the hardwood early on, the rest off the team came rushing to pick them up. By the time the trade deadline passed, guys were left hanging to get up on their own.
The moves he did pull off at the deadline were head scratchers to say the least, in particular the Ivica Zubac for Mike Muscala trade. Zubac had finally put it all together and showcased his offensive ability. He played himself into the starting lineup almost immediately after being the 3rd string Center coming into the season. He was rewarded by being traded to the Clippers, in a move that everyone agrees was a terrible move. The return of Muscala has been dreadful. He is a “shooter” who can’t hit an open shot from anywhere on the floor. Meanwhile Zubac its helping the Clippers ensure a playoff brith. I won’t kill him for the Svi Mykaihluk trade for Reggie Bullock because Bullock is a good 3 and D guy and fit well with LeBron. But like a lot of other things Magic has done, the negatives (Zubac trade) outweighs the positives.
How Magic Can Right His Wrongs
The solution to all these issues would be signing a max free agent this offseason to pair with LeBron and the young core. Winning heals all wounds and that is exactly what will happen with another all star level player added to the team with the correct supporting cast. It is easier said than done but a huge reason Magic is President of basketball operations is to lure the big free agents to play in the purple and gold. If he strikes out on a big name free agent this offseason, the whole LeBron James-Lakers era could crumble before it ever reaches championship aspirations.
The ball is in your court now Magic. Either right your wrongs or Jeannie Buss should consider moving on before you strip the Lakers of a present and future.