2018 Free Agency
Magic Johnson taking long view on Los Angeles Lakers' offseason
Johnson: 'We’re looking forward to July, but we’re not putting all our marbles into one summer.'
From NBA Twitter and media reports
The Los Angeles Lakers are expected by many to be a serious player when NBA free agency officially begins on July 1. They are one of a handful of teams with salary cap room to spare and a young roster that could, perhaps, entice a marquee free agent.
Team president Magic Johnson isn’t about to put undue pressure on himself, though, to accomplish all his roster goals this offseason. As the team introduced rookies Moe Wagner and Sviat Mykhailiuk to the media on Tuesday, Johnson made it clear he has a long-term view (and a deadline for himself) when it comes to rebuilding the Lakers’ roster.
Johnson told reporters that he feels he has two summers to try and sign some elite free agents to the Lakers. If he can’t, he sees his time as team president being short-lived.
“Next summer, if nobody comes and I’m still sitting here like this, then it’s a failure,” Johnson said Tuesday.
Johnson was put in charge of the Lakers’ front office by owner Jeanie Buss in February 2017, and the former superstar point guard immediately announced his plans to revive the struggling franchise by enticing the game’s best players to join as free agents.
If we can sign somebody this summer, we’ll do that. If it doesn’t happen, we’ve got to turn to next summer.”
Lakers president Magic Johnson
With Paul George and potentially LeBron James headlining the market this summer, Johnson is leading the Lakers’ efforts to land both players this weekend. If they sign elsewhere, Johnson and the Lakers will pursue the large crop of 2019 free agents.
And if he strikes out with every big name, Johnson said he will quit.
“Like I told you when I took the job, it’s going to be a two-summer thing for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “This summer, and next summer, and that’s it. And if I can’t deliver, I’m going to step down myself. She won’t have to fire me. I’ll step away from it. Because then, I can’t do this job. But so far, so good.”
When asked if he felt pressure to remake the Lakers’ roster this summer, Johnson played off that question with a degree of the calmness that marked his playing days.
“I’m Magic Johnson,” he said with his ubiquitous smile. “You know how many Finals I’ve been in? So you think I’m worried about this? I played against Larry Bird in The Finals. I played in nine Finals.”
Johnson is the second straight basketball decision-maker for the Lakers to create a self-imposed deadline for success.
In 2014, co-owner Jim Buss told the Los Angeles Times that the Lakers had to be a contender within three to four years, or “I will step down, because that means I have failed.”
The Lakers badly missed that deadline, and Buss’ sister fired him and general manager Mitch Kupchak in February 2017.
Johnson and Pelinka are spending this week honing and fine-tuning their free-agent pitches. They’ll show their plans to Jeanie Buss later in the week, along with numerous contingency plans for the short-term and long-term future.
“If we can sign somebody this summer, we’ll do that,” Johnson said. “If it doesn’t happen, we’ve got to turn to next summer.”
Aside from rebuilding the current roster, Johnson also addressed second-year guard Lonzo Ball. A variety of injuries limited Ball to 52 games as he averaged 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game and was an All-Rookie Second Team pick.
Bresnahan reports (via Twitter) that Johnson has been impressed with Ball’s offseason work to date:
Magic Johnson was impressed by Lonzo Ball adding more muscle this summer. “If you look at his body now, it’s completely different from last season,” Magic said. Magic added that he wanted Lonzo to play at least 70 games next season. Ball played only 52 as a rookie.
Magic talked about Lonzo Ball’s progress while spending time with us on @SpectrumSN “I broke down his game,” Magic said, referring to three recent film sessions with Ball. “You’re going to see a different Lonzo Ball,” Magic added, predicting Ball would be much more aggressive.
Rookies Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart all showed clear NBA ability, while youngsters Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle continued their development into above-average pros. Los Angeles’ 35-47 record and 11th-place conference finish in the just-completed season are its best performances by a considerable margin during this woeful five-year stretch.
Randle played in all 82 games, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds and emerging as a dependable two-way player. He is a free agent this summer after the Lakers decided not to lock him down with a contract extension last year.
The Lakers’ desire for plenty of cap room this summer means they’ve got four talented veterans with expiring contracts: Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye.
Lopez had a strong debut season with his hometown team, which won’t be able to afford him unless it comes up empty with the top-shelf free agents. Caldwell-Pope also seems likely to leave, while the market for Thomas’ skills is unpredictable after his injury-plagued year ended with hip surgery. If Thomas doesn’t attract a big offer, he seems amenable to a return to LA — as does Frye, a dependable veteran backup.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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