Can Magic Turn the Lakers Around?

By Matt Paradise
Feb. 22, 2017

Yesterday the Lakers made the long overdue move of firing front office men Mitch Kupchack and Jim Buss and who did they put in charge? None other than Laker legend Magic Johnson. Magic has his hands full to bring the Lakers back to relevance, but the big question is, can he do it?

Some may be wondering; how did the Lakers even get so bad in the first place? It all started back in 2011 when the Lakers fleeced the rest of the league so badly in a trade that it was rejected by the league. The Lakers were set to deal an aging Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and get an in his prime Chris Paul, while saving about $20 million in cap space. The league stepped in and rejected the trade, and it changed the entire course of the NBA. Had Chris Paul gone to the Lakers, they never would have fallen into such a degree of irrelevance, but since the trade was rejected, the Lakers responded by making some questionable deals that ended up burning them.

Once the Chris Paul trade was rejected, the Lakers ended up dealing for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to pair with Kobe Bryant and Paul Gasol to form one of the most stacked rosters in the league. The problem was they dealt just about every asset they had in order to make this work, and the project failed. Rather than bringing back Phil Jackson, who wanted a crack at coaching this team, they brought in Mike D’Antoni, who was a bad fit for this style of roster. The season was a failure, Kobe ruptured his Achilles at the end of the year, Howard booked in free agency, and Nash and Gasol were old and past their prime. Kobe never came back the same, Gasol ended up leaving in free agency, Nash retired, and the Lakers were left with nothing but some draft picks and cap space.

The last few years have been the darkest era of Lakers basketball in their history. The problem in trying to rebuild is that they still owe draft picks from the Nash and Howard trades, and in order to push back having to lose those picks they need to absolutely stink. They’ve managed to hold on to the pick for the last two years, drafting D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram #2 overall each of the last two years, to pair with recent lottery pick Julius Randle. While all three players have shown some degree of promise, none has shown that they will be a definite all-star caliber player down the road, so the Lakers are still waiting for their star player to replace Kobe.

Russell, Randle, and Ingram, paired with other young players in Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, and Tarik Black, along with two veterans having solid seasons in Lou Williams and Nick Young, have the Lakers on the upswing after bottoming out last year. That said, they are still years from any sort of contention. Right now, it is imperative that they keep their draft pick again this year, which goes to the 76ers if it falls outside the top three. This leaves them stuck in a hard place, deciding whether to tank the rest of the year to give themselves the best chance at keeping the pick, or keeping the status quo after showing some degree of promise throughout the season.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In steps Magic Johnson, who comes in with the clear agenda of doing whatever is necessary to bring the team back to contention. His first day on the job he traded the best player on the roster in Lou Williams, which in many ways was a very good deal for the Lakers. Why would trading their best player be a good deal? Lou is on the wrong side of 30 and won’t be around to be a part of the next great Lakers team, he was on a reasonable contract giving him some trade value, and trading him would increase the Lakers chances of keeping their draft pick. With the Lakers being 0.5 games better than Phoenix battling for the 2nd or 3rd worst record in the league, they needed to ensure they drop to 2nd worst. Dealing Lou, who has been brilliant this season and was a key contributor in their 19 wins, will help them fall behind the Suns and increase their chances to keep their pick. In return, they didn’t take on any additional salary and got back a 1st round pick, which gives them more assets to build with. Magic’s first move was a good one, now the question is what can he do moving forward.

It will be interesting to watch whether or not Magic makes any more moves before Thursday's trade deadline. The next most obvious name to trade is Nick Young, who has rebuilt some value this season. Anything they can get for him would be a help for the future. Will they keep their pick? That’s going to take some luck in the lottery, but Magic is setting up the team to give them the best odds.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Can Magic lure free agents to pair with the young core they have been putting together? That’s going to be the biggest challenge. One thing for sure is Magic Johnson in charge and Luke Walton coaching a young talented roster is much more desirable to potential free agents than coach Byron Scott with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss in charge. Magic is going to need some luck this summer in the draft, and he will be counting on Luke to coach up the young talent to make the Lakers as desirable as possible to future free agents. If the Lakers keep their pick this summer, Magic can hit the ground running with the rebuild he has on his hands. If they lose their pick, Magic will have to work some magic if he’s going to make any significant improvements before next year. Only time will tell, but it appears the Lakers are in better hands now with Magic running the show. Can he turn things around? The guess right now is that he gives the Lakers the best chance. 

Magic has been critical of how the Lakers have been running the team for years, so now he has his chance to do something about it. Will he capitalize on the opportunity, or will it be a failed experiment, leaving the Lakers in the basement of the league for years to come? Comment and let us know what you think! Stay tuned for more current sports stories. Don't forget to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram @beyondthemetrics, and Twitter @byondthemetrics

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