Ever since Magic Johnson took full control of the Lakers front office following Jeanie Buss’s axing of her brother, the general reaction has been one of skepticism. It isn’t easy to run a team: just look at Phil Jackson. Magic hasn’t been involved in the NBA in more than 20 years, they should have looked outside the Laker family, etc., etc. At first glance I sort of felt the same way, but fairly quickly I began to reconsider, and after seeing a couple of his early moves, I’m officially on board.
So without further ado, 32 reasons why #32 will be successful as the Lakers boss:
32. He’s Never Failed At Anything (Besides Hosting a Talk Show and Coaching the Lakers)
Okay, maybe a bad example, but he knows when to cut bait on a losing proposition. That’s a skill in its own right. Good news for Lakers fans. Also, despite these “failures,” Magic has clearly been WAY more successful in retirement than your average professional athlete.
31. They’re the Fucking Lakers
I.e. the organization has a lot going for it before you even add Magic to the equation. They’ve never gone a long period of time without a winning team and it isn’t a coincidence.
30. Last Time We Checked, They Still Play in LA
A lot has been made about how playing in a big city like LA or NYC doesn’t matter to NBA stars anymore because (thanks to social media and better technology) they can land giant endorsement contracts playing in tiny markets, a la Durant and Westbrook in OKC. There is some truth to that, but players also just didn’t want to play for James Dolan or with Kobe Bryant. Dolan ain’t going anywhere, but Kobe is down in Newport Beach playing Walt Disney, and tons of players are either from here, own houses here, or both. Expect the river of free agents to La La Land to keep flowing.
29-25. Magic’s Five Rings
Winning five titles buys you a lot of patience and deference from the media and fans. The less immediate pressure there is to succeed, the more likely it is that Magic and Rob Pelinka (who will be protected from most criticism because of Magic) build a long-term juggernaut.
24. Pelinka Has Never Failed…At Anything
He was a backup to the Fab Five at Michigan while getting straight A’s. Then he graduated cum laude from the (excellent) University of Michigan Law School, before going on to become a top agent in the NBA, first for the legendary Arn Tellem and then eventually on his own. He’s represented dozens of players, including James Harden, Derek Fisher, and most notably, Kobe Bean Bryant. The Kobe connection helped him land the job, but this isn’t some flunky. Golden State has done pretty well with Bob Myers, another former college player-turned-agent and Arn Tellem lieutenant.
23. His Impact on the Current Players
Magic has been pretty hands-on so far, and that should continue going forward. First of all, he can use his basketball intellect to pick up on things that individual players should be doing better, but more importantly, he can relay those messages to the players in an effective way. Players often rebel against advice from coaches if they can’t see the benefit to themselves, but when the advice is coming from Magic Johnson, something tells me they may be more willing to listen. Speaking of players…
22. D’Angelo Russell
21. Brandon Ingram
20. Julius Randle
We don’t entirely know what to make of any of these guys so far, but they’re all really young and really talented. Whether they end up surrounded by the right players (paging Lonzo Ball) and reach their potential with the Lakers, or end up as ammunition for trades, the cupboard isn’t bare. Which is good, because the last time I checked, you need talent to win in the NBA.
19. The Weather
What does this have to do with Magic? Nothing. But until global warming kicks into high gear and people start taking spring break trips to Juneau, Alaska, it will always be an arrow in the Lakers’ quiver.
18. They’re Due Anyway
Things work in cycles, and the Lakers are never down for too long. Eventually they will bounce back up, and even if a lot of that is random, it’ll still be Magic’s success.
17. He Has Nothing to Lose
Even if this experiment were to unexpectedly turn into a Magic-as-Lakers-Head-Coach level disaster, it still wouldn’t really damage his reputation in LA (or his bank account). That will allow him to make bold moves and operate from a place of security. Most team executives manage from a place of weakness, i.e. fear of losing their job.
16. The NBA Wants Magic AND the Lakers to Succeed
You can bet that last $300 you were counting on to feed your family this week that Adam Silver desperately wants the Lakers to be good and for Magic to succeed. That doesn’t necessarily mean he will fix the lottery for them, but let’s just say if they do end up with the No. 1 pick, there may be a few raised eyebrows in Boston, Phoenix, and the rest of the league.
15. He’s One of the Most Competitive People Alive
He may have done it with a smile, but Magic was an absolute killer on (and apparently off) the court. He will care so much about making this work and bringing the Lakers back to prominence that he will do whatever it takes. If that means selling his stake in the Dodgers (or at least cutting out the public-facing part of it) or doing even more delegating at Magic Johnson Enterprises, or cutting out the weekends at the beach with his family, my gut tells me Magic will do it without thinking twice.
14. His Deep Business Contacts
The Lakers already print money, but the more you make, the more you can spend on salaries and luxury tax, along with ancillary goodies for players that don’t count under the salary cap. While Pelinka is trying to find cell service on a scouting trip in Eastern Europe or knee deep in contractual paperwork, Magic will be entertaining corporate execs at Spago. And you better believe they will all be eating out of his hand. He’s a born salesman, and he will be selling a product – the Lakers – that people in LA are already pretty fucking high on.
13. There are Already Positive Signs
The tank job to end the 2016-17 season has been effective and efficient. It didn’t go into full gear until Magic got there, so he should get some credit for it (although they were playing so shittily before that it can be hard to tell where exactly the purposeful tanking started). Since the Sixers have the rights to their pick should it fall outside the top three, it was the obvious move. It may end up netting them Lonzo Ball and forever changing the franchise.
12. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak Are OUT
If this had been a deal where Jeanie shoved Magic down her brother’s throat and they were fighting for control, this wouldn’t work. But Jim Buss has taken his 88 IQ on down the road, so Magic is working with a clean slate.
11. Jim Buss Isn’t Smart Enough to Stage a Coup Against Jeanie
Because of the way the trust that owns the Lakers is set up, there’s a scenario in which Jim Buss could wrest control of the team from his sister. He already tried it once. He wasn’t successful then, and the smart money says that he doesn’t have the strategic chops to pull it off in the future.
10. Luke Walton Can Coach
It helps to have a young, smart, respected head coach who’s on the same wavelength as the GM. The Lakers may have sucked this year, but my gut tells me Walton is a natural as a sideline boss.
9. He Understands the Modern Game
Most old players are stuck in their ways and rebel against what they see as the soft modern game. Think Charles Barkley. Magic, however, was a spiritual godfather of the modern floor-spacing, pass-first game. The only thing that’s changed is the focus on threes.
8. Other GMs Idolize Him
Ex-players like Vlade Divac populating the GM ranks will be a good thing for Magic and the Lakers. A lot of the current GMs were contemporaries of Magic, like Danny Ainge or Doc Rivers. As more time goes by and younger people start filling these jobs, the fact that most of them grew up idolizing Magic will only help.
7. He’s Already Thinking Outside the Box
When Magic’s first move was not only to bring in someone who knew the CBA and the intricacies of contract negotiations better than himself, but also someone who is a bold thinker and not just another front office retread, it showed real vision. Speaking of that…
6. He Hit the Ground Running
In addition to hiring Pelinka, Magic also moved Lou Williams to the Rockets during his first day on the job. Most big-name front office hires take a while to “survey the landscape” or some other BS corporate-speak for surveying the political landscape to see which way the knives are pointed.
5. Two Words: Born Leader
Whether he was dominating scrimmages with college players as an eighth grader, leading the Lakers to the NBA title as a rookie, being the de facto face of the Dream Team despite the presence of Michael Jordan, or becoming the public face of the Dodgers ownership group, Magic has led and been comfortable doing it.
4. He’s a Really Hard Worker
By most accounts Magic is worth somewhere north of $500 million. Yet he’s still at the Equinox Sports Club on Sepulveda Blvd. in West LA every morning by 6:30 am, on his way to working a full day. Running a team means working long hours; that has never been an issue for Earvin Johnson.
3. Everyone Wants to Meet Him
Every single person in LA and the greater NBA community more or less idolizes Magic to some degree. Which means that, whether it’s a city planner approving a Staples Center addition or a potential free agent who was born after Magic retired, he will never have trouble getting people to meet with him.
2. Jeanie Buss Anointed Him Personally
Until further notice – or an unexpected twist in the King Lear-esque machinations between the Buss children – Jeanie Buss is the undisputed Boss of all Bosses of the Lakers, and Magic is her guy. Fuck, as we mentioned above, she kicked her brother out on his ass to make way for the guy. Clear lines of power are important in an organization, and the Lakers have them.
1. He Knows What He Doesn’t Know
This reason may be more important than the other 31 combined. Running an NBA team is hard, especially for someone who hasn’t been working in an organization for years. NO ONE can do it alone – especially first-timers – and it’s the ones who think they can (like Phil Jackson) who fail. Magic has been a great delegator throughout his business career and it has served him extremely well. Expect the same to happen with the Purple and Gold.