Just as he showed as a player during the Showtime Era, Magic Johnson is proving to be very comfortable in the spotlight after being brought on as an advisor to Jeanie Buss.
Since his hiring was announced only 12 days ago, Magic has made an appearance with the Lakers’ TV partner for an interview, he’s made on the record comments to USA today saying he wants to “call the shots”, he (or someone close to him) sourced comments to ESPN which implicated Mitch Kupchak, he’s gone on CBS radio, and today he did an interview with Hannah Storm on ESPN.
That’s more media hits in less than two weeks than Jim Buss has made in two years.
Magic’s comments to Storm are pretty straight forward, even when deflecting. He says it’s “Jeanie’s decision” on whether Jim will be held to his self imposed timeline for contention, he notes that “change is needed” at the top — even if only from an approach standpoint, and adds that an examination of some of the top franchises is in order in order to “copy” some of what they have done in order to be successful.
The interesting nugget from the above segment, though, is Magic saying he’s going to speak with Jim and Mitch soon and ask them for explanations on past moves and then also inquire about their vision for the future. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, but if I were speaking to Magic, I would remind him that looking a certain decisions with the benefit of hindsight isn’t always as helpful since it’s nearly impossible to replicate the sense of urgency or capture the circumstance of the environment which led to those decisions.
Just a brief sampling of what I mean:
- A little over 5 years ago, the “Veto” set into action a series of decisions which cascaded negatively. Be it the sense of betrayal Paul Gasol had to play with for his remaining time with the team, to the Odom trade, to the need to use that traded player exception from that deal within a year which led to the Nash deal, to Nash’s injury to…you get the point.
- Dr. Buss’ death created not only a sense of mourning and impacted how the team carried forward without their long time patriarch, but it’s impossible to truly recreate how his failing health may have impacted decisions which had longstanding consequences for the front office and the organization at whole on and off the court. Whether it was “win now” trades or coaching hires (there are still whispers about how much Dr. Buss influenced choosing D’Antoni over Phil or how hiring Byron was “something Dr. Buss would have wanted”), the effects of those decisions live on today and I don’t know how you properly measure the feelings which went into making them at the time.
- The complications of dealing with Kobe and his expiring contract right at the time he tore his achilles. I won’t rehash the Kobe deal now, but I will say that I do not think any sort of hindsight analysis does credit to the feelings within the organization on how to deal with what was a devastating injury which happened to, arguably, the best player who had ever worn the uniform and had a cult following not just in your home market, but around the world.
Those are only three examples, but there are more.
I’m not bringing up those things to obscure how some of the other decisions made have played out. I have been critical of this front office’s approach in several areas, most notably their hiring of Byron, but also of their general approach in free agency where they continued to chase star players for multiple summers while losing out on viable mid-priced talents which could have helped the team. Further exacerbating those decisions is that when the team finally did chase “non-star” types, they did so in the year which the salary cap spiked, necessitating the types of massive overpays which will have little forgiveness in the coming seasons and much less than similar overpays in the pre-new TV deal free agent market would have.
There’s little spin to make here and Mitch and Jim will simply need to own those missteps. But, as noted above, they will also need to make sure they provide the full context to what has led to the decline of the on-court product over the years.
And I hope Magic is receptive to that. Not because I necessarily want Jim and Mitch to remain in their jobs, but because any true self analysis and forward projections must do its best to not only do an accounting of the failures, but to understand the process which went into them. Because, as Magic noted above, the Lakers need to look at other teams and figure out what they do to be successful and then copy it. And I can guarantee, one of the major themes will be valuing process as much or more than results.