Magic Johnson has always been a man not afraid to share his opinions on live television. On Tuesday morning, he was on ESPN’s First Take to discuss the state of the Los Angeles Lakers, and as always, the Lakers legend had a mouthful to say about Jim Buss’ inability to run the team.
“This summer has to be the biggest summer of Jim Buss’ life,” Johnson said. “Now you’re starting to lose the fan base. If he doesn’t have a big summer with a free agent, it looks like they’ll have a good draft pick. Put that together with a good free agent, you can be right back into the mix. If this summer, that doesn’t happen where they can sign a great player, it’s over for us,” Johnson continued.
The Lakers currently own the fourth worst record in the league which, at this point, they will keep their first-round draft pick. If things go the way they are, they should be able to get a high lottery pick. In addition, they will have around $16 million to spend on free agents this summer, meaning the Lakers have the luxury to rebuild immediately, and that is exactly what Johnson is referring too.
“We must be back and relevant and sign a good free agent, get a good draft pick and send Kobe out the right way,” Johnson added. “The Lakers can get back in the mix, but the West is so tough. That’s the problem.”
Kobe Bryant, who is currently nursing a shoulder injury that will keep him out nine months, will be on the final year of his contract next season. It’s obvious that Bryant’s age and injuries have slowed him down considerably, so he is going to need all the help he could get this offseason. Clearly, Kobe Bryant cannot be the best player on a winning team anymore.
What’s worse is that over the past few years, the Lakers have lost talent rather than gained and have not become an attractive market, which is something unusual for such a historic franchise.
Johnson further continues to criticize Buss on his decision making over the past four years, pinpointing that he decided to hire Mike Brown over Brian Shaw in 2011, and Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson in 2013 after Brown was fired.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. You need to stand up and say, ‘I made a mistake.’ He has not once said to Laker nation, ‘Mike Brown I made a mistake, Coach D’Antoni I made a mistake.’ Just say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake,’” Johnson said. “We could understand that, okay. We could deal with that.”
Hiring Mike D’Antoni transpired into many other downfalls for the Lakers, which is what Johnson is agitated about. Even though injuries happen unexpectedly in the NBA, D’Antoni has been blamed for playing Kobe Bryant 40-plus minutes in eight consecutive games. Plus, after the season was over, Dwight Howard left the team because he was unhappy with Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offensive system which excluded his touches in the paint.
Further down the line, Pau Gasol left the Lakers because he, too, was upset with the lack of post play under D’Antoni’s system, and the team was headed the wrong direction anyway. He made a tough offseason decision to leave his closest friend Kobe Bryant to join a championship caliber team. Since then, the Lakers have been nothing but a mediocre team.
Johnson continued his criticism by attacking Jim Buss’ ego.
“His father was smart enough to understand that ‘I own the team, but I don’t have the basketball expertise to make those decisions.’ So let me bring in Jerry West, one of the best if not the best mind in basketball, to make basketball decisions. Then he consulted guys like myself,” Johnson stated. “Jim is trying to do it himself and trying to prove to everybody that ‘This was the right decision that my dad gave me the reigns.’ He’s not consulting anybody that can help him achieve his goals and dreams to win an NBA championship.”
Johnson also added that he has no relationship with Jim, but he “loves” Jeanie Buss.
“Dr. Buss raised Jeanie and I up together. When Jeanie went to USC business school, he was bringing us along together. Jim was not part of the Lakers. He never really saw our championship years. Jim was doing his own thing,” Johnson said. “He came back later on, and Dr. Buss knew he wanted the kids to decide later on to run the basketball side because Jeanie was definitely going to run the business side. I like Jim as a person. But at the same time, a great CEO or person who is in a powerful position will surround himself or put together a team to help them achieve their goals and dreams. Jim has not done that.”
Despite all the criticism towards Jim Buss and the Lakers, Johnson praised Byron Scott for the job he has been doing with a talentless team.
“Coach Scott got them playing hard. You got to give him credit,” Johnson said. “We don’t have talent. We don’t have enough talent to compete with the good teams in the NBA.”
Whatever the case, Johnson has been condemning Jim Buss’ decisions for quite some time now, but the Lakers are still in turmoil.
With the offseason quickly approaching, the front office will need to gear up for an important free agency period and NBA draft. Some of the 2015 free agents include the likes of Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Brandon Knight, Rajon Rondo, and Kevin Love if he decides to opt out of his contract.
The Lakers have the chance to make a huge splash this year by selecting a potential top four pick in the draft and landing a top free agent to help Kobe Bryant carry the team back to supremacy. However, the decision making is in the hands of Jim Buss, and as Magic Johnson stated, this is a crucial summer for him.