Sports Out West

Magic Johnson warns Lakers fans not to get too excited

Photo Credit: Joe Kohen/AP

Former Laker great and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson  during an hourlong interview on the “Max and Marcellus Show” on ESPNLA 710 on Tuesday stated it will be a long and arduous season for the Los Angeles Lakers, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“Laker fans are spoiled. I don’t know how they’re going to react now, because this is going to be a tough season,” Johnson said. “This is going to be one of the roughest seasons that the Lakers have ever faced. You’re waiting on Kobe [Bryant] to see if he can get healthy. Nobody knows if he can be what he was. Then you’ve got [Pau] Gasol — who I think is a premier big man — but he plays better when he has talent around him.

“You’ve got guys who are all on one-year contracts, and all were journeymen on other teams. Laker fans are not used to that. I don’t know if they’re going to buy into that. We’re going to see. If you want the Laker fans to really buy in and be involved, you’re going to have to win right away. I don’t see that happening. The West is tough this year.”

Johnson’s outlook on the franchise he won five NBA championships with is a view that is shared by many members of the media because of the uncertainty of when Bryant will return and at what level he will play at once he comes back coupled along with an aging core group of Gasol and Steve Nash surrounded by young players.

With that said, Johnson is still optimistic that the Lakers can make a run at a playoff position, but pointed out that Bryant is the linchpin in making that possible.

“I’m hoping that they at least make the playoffs,” Johnson said. “But that’s going to be tough, especially without Kobe. We have to see what Kobe we’re going to get. Is he going to be that same Kobe or is he going to be hurt a little bit?”

As for how Bryant will play once he returns to the court from rehabbing his surgically-repaired left Achilles tendon, Johnson believes that the 15-time All-Star will be able to perform at the high level he did prior to the injury but questions the supporting cast around him.

“Kobe can get 30 or 40,” Johnson said. “But you have to remember, you need at least three guys who can score. Right now I’m looking at that roster and going, ‘Who else is going to get you 15-20 a night besides Gasol and Kobe?’ “

The Lakers have been positioning themselves with plenty of salary cap space for next offseason where potential free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony may be possibilities for the franchise. So when asked about being an emissary for the organization next summer to make a pitch to top free agents like James and Anthony, Johnson stated ” I’m here to do that. My week, month, year go as the Lakers go.”

Johnson ultimately sees next offseason an important one for the Lakers’ franchise.

“This summer is going to be a crucial summer for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “They have all that cap space. Hopefully [Lakers executive Jim Buss] has a plan. His dad [the late Dr. Jerry Buss] would’ve had a plan two years ago.”

Jim Buss along with general manager Mitch Kupchak have stated several different times during this past offseason that the organization has laid out a plan for the summer of 2014 by having their players contracts line up to expire next offseason allowing the team the financial flexibility needed in order to sign multiple free agents.

Johnson’s concern in this case is more with what the franchise will do led by Jim Buss against other teams next offseason such as the Miami Heat president Pat Riley if the Lakers were to indeed to target James.

“If it’s Jim Buss going up against Pat Riley, he’s going to lose that battle. He needs help,” Johnson said. “You have to have a recruiter. Jim needs a recruiter with him.”

Johnson also indicated that the lure of the Lakers to free agents goes beyond the court, as there are other financial opportunities that Los Angeles provides.

“The thing that separates LA from Miami or New York or any other place is that you can make so much money off the court,” Johnson said. “You become a celebrity. Not a sports star. Kobe is a celebrity. That’s why he owns China, Japan … because he plays for the Lakers and wins championships for the Lakers. Nobody else has that cache.

“This town loves winners. When those billionaires come out [to the games], they want a piece of that guy who is leading the Lakers. That’s the thing that L.A. can offer.”

This was not the case this past offseason for Dwight Howard as he chose to leave the Lakers and sign for less money with the Houston Rockets. Johnson did not agree with the Lakers tactics to convince Howard to sign with the franchise by putting billboards all across Los Angeles.

“I was mad at the Lakers for recruiting him to stay. I’m not begging anybody to play for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “You always have a plan B if he doesn’t sign, so don’t be rolling out the red carpet, begging this dude. This dude hasn’t won a championship yet.

“I don’t think Dwight could stomach L.A. It was too much pressure. There’s pressure being a Laker. There’s pressure in this town.”

Johnson believes that Howard was incapable of accepting that the Lakers were still Bryant’s team and that made it hard for him to want to stay in Los Angeles.

“It played out the right way. This is Kobe’s team. It’s still his team,” Johnson said of the friction between the two stars. “When I came in this was Kareem’s team and I didn’t even worry about it. I said, ‘Man, this is your team.’ It wasn’t until Pat Riley came to me seven or eight years in and said, ‘Man, this has now got to be your team.’

“Sometimes, Dwight, you have to defer. Just like now. Houston is not his team. That’s James Harden‘s team. That’s why I was saying, ‘I don’t think he could stomach L.A.’ “

 Johnson also felt that bringingin Phil Jackson rather than Mike D’Antoni was the organization’s only realistic shot at retaining the services of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year and he still has difficulty knowing that the Lakers could have brought back the man who led the franchise to five NBA titles.

“It blows me away that we could’ve had Phil Jackson,” Johnson said. “As much as we all would like to see Phil a part of it, he understands it can’t happen.”

He also added that is Jim Buss making moves such as the hiring of Mike Brown two seasons ago based on proving everyone that he could handle the position given to him by his father and that the decision to not hire Jackson was a ” sucker punch” that was made as “more against the sister, like, ‘Hey Jeanie, I’m running this.'”

Johnson has been critical of Jim Buss in the past and the comments that he made on Tuesday still show his dismay with how Buss is running the Lakers’ organization. Johnson wants Jim to emulate his father by surrounding himself with people like Kupchak to help make decisions for the franchise.

“You didn’t realize what your dad did. Your dad surrounded himself with great basketball expertise,” Johnson said. “He had Jerry West in there, (and) Mitch Kupchak, his assistant. He would (also) come to me ‘what do you think Magic.’ So he had three or four guys giving him expertise and knowledge so he could make a smart decision.

“Jim he doesn’t want that. (His mentality is) ‘I don’t want anybody telling me or giving me advice. I want to show everybody I can do this.’ He needs to surround himself with people who can help him make good decisions for the Lakers. Right now he’s not doing that. I really hope that Jim will work even more closely with Mitch, and take advice from Mitch.”

Photo Credit: Joe Kohen/AP

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Bob Garcia IV

Bob Garcia is a sports journalist from Southern California. He was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarcia90.