Magic: LeBron Takes 3-Year Plan to 'A Whole 'Nother Level'
When Magic Johnson met with LeBron James in the opening hours of free agency, he arrived simply to talk hoops.
The Lakers President of Basketball Operations had watched plenty of tape on James — going back to his days in Miami and Cleveland — in the build-up to the meeting, studying how the four-time MVP played and where he liked the ball.
“I prepared that way instead of a lot of bells and whistles and things like that,” Johnson said via conference call. “It was really about basketball.”
Johnson called James a “basketball genius,” saying that the two were of the same mind when it came to how they viewed the game.
LeBron dissected the Lakers’ roster and coach Luke Walton’s philosophies, and agreed that L.A. was the destination best suited for the next phase of his career.
“I told him that we had a three-year plan,” Johnson said. “We have a plan that we want to execute and he can really take that plan to a whole ‘nother level.”
Getting James to agree to a “longterm commitment to the Lakers organization” was crucial for Johnson.
The front office leader feels that James anchoring in L.A. for the next few years will attract more talent to the team. Having the best player in the world serving as a beacon is one of the reasons Johnson noted that the Lakers have the cap space to sign another max free agent next summer.
When it comes to personnel decisions like that, Johnson plans to involve James, much like Dr. Jerry Buss and then-General Manager Jerry West did with him when he was starring for the Lakers back in the 1980s.
“We’re gonna go to LeBron and say … ‘Hey, what do you think about this (player)?’” Johnson said. “‘You know him, you play against him, you know the backstories and everything about the guy, so you probably know a lot more than we know.’”
But final say still belongs to Johnson and Owner Jeanie Buss.
“The ultimate decision-maker on the team and who we bring in is me,” he said. “And then I take that to Jeanie and see what she says, whether she signs off or not.”
As for the current roster, Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka focused on bringing in long, defensive-minded players with reputations as fierce competitors.
They consciously built this team differently than James’ previous rosters, which often focused on offense and surrounding him with shooters. The Lakers, instead, opted for a crew that brought an assortment of skills rather than players that specialized in one.
This also meant putting as many playmakers on the floor as possible, from gifted point guards — Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo — to players who could create at other positions, like Kyle Kuzma, Lance Stephenson and Josh Hart.
“(James) doesn’t have to make every play,” Johnson said. “That’s what wears him out, what wears him down. He doesn’t have to make every play now. We got guys that can make plays on their own, so he can relax on offense some.”
Johnson feels that having so many playmakers on roster will lift the burden on LeBron, leaving him fresher for the playoffs.
Considering that the postseason is a while away, Johnson preached “patience with the chemistry on the court,” saying that the Lakers will likely need about two months to figure out how to play with each other.
But he’s confident that the team will come together, citing how James’ tenure in Miami had a rough beginning before suddenly morphing into a perennial championship contender.
“LeBron is the greatest leader in sports,” Magic said, “so I think that (chemistry) is gonna be easy.”