Magic Johnson was flawless in his stint as President of the Los Angeles Lakers. He made just an evaluation mistake along the way.
We cannot certainly say anything bad about Magic Johnson‘s tenure as President of Basketball Operations of the Los Angeles Lakers. He is the man who single-handedly changed the whole culture in the organization, bringing them back to championship level from the nightmare team they were. And he is the reason why LeBron James and Anthony Davis are wearing a purple and gold uniform.
As a matter of fact he made every right move to get the team to the situation it is right now, in a very short time frame. We could count against him only the mistake to not re-sign Brook Lopez as a free agent in the summer of 2018. Something he himself admitted to be his missed call in his executive career.
Lopez is now playing for the contending Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 12 points and 2.4 blocks in the regular season and 16.1 points shooting 42.2 percent from three in the playoffs. With his floor-stretching abilities at the five he would have fit perfectly next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Anyway, the Bucks are on the verge of elimination, while the Los Angeles Lakers are still in play for the Conference Finals, so no irreparable damage letting him go.
In a trade with the only purpose to clear cap space to sign James in free agency, Magic had obtained two extremely valuable players for his team, that would have been big pieces of the roster, in Lopez and Kyle Kuzma (actually, the draft pick that would net them Kuz) while getting rid of highly-expensive damaged goods Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell. What a move!
Around that particular transaction, D’Angelo Russel was the key piece that allowed to reach the agreement.
Magic, fresh off winning for the third consecutive year the second overall pick in the Draft Lottery and locked on using it to select point guard Lonzo Ball from UCLA, decided to ship D’Angelo Russell, who played the same position and was haunted by the shadow of the Nick Young incident.
He cited the need of people able to lead when addressing the sacrifice of the sophomore guard, and obviously a certain degree of position overlap in two young promising player was to be taken into account.
Earvin clearly preferred Lonzo over Russell and considered him the better player for the franchise. He also went on saying that one day his number would have hanged alongside those of the other Lakers legends in his introductory press conference.
Well, maybe he went a little bit too far.
Fast forward three years and Ball, as the starting point guard in New Orleans, averaged 11.8 points and 7 assist, not much different from his rookie season, and he does not look exactly like the fearful leader everyone would follow on the floor.
He makes more buzz for the reality show centered on his family and all the drama around it than for his playing. Furthermore, he never led any team to the playoffs.
Russell, since he was traded from Los Angeles, averaged 20.1 points and 6.3 assists and made the All-Star Game. In 2019 he led an underdog Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs. He also received a max contract, something Lonzo will probably never see, already mentioned in new trade rumors.
Sure, D’Angelo bounced around the league a little bit, but he has now found a place where he is wanted and appreciated for his skills in the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Of course, Russell was to be traded to free the cap space that would allow to sign LeBron James, and his reputation was irreparably damaged in the Los Angeles Lakers locker room. In fact, we are not blaming Magic for having executed a bad trade. Far from that.
But he definitely made a wrong evaluation considering DLo unable to lead a team and Lonzo the cornerstone of a championship team.
The five-time champion has an immense basketball mind, full of knowledge and experience that we should listen to every day. He was not the heart of the Showtime just by accident. But this time he got the wrong plug.