The Los Angeles Lakers’ season began with more promise than most — the NBA’s premier franchise once again had the best player in the NBA suiting up for them every night. Lakers legend Magic Johnson was on board, and he was reformulating the roster into one that would win again. Then he signed Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo, then he traded Zubac for next to nothing and then the Lakers went 37–45 and missed the playoffs.
A fan base that two months ago was convinced they were going to get Anthony Davis to pair with LeBron James is now grappling with a lottery team whose general manager just resigned and whose coach has been traded. Magic Johnson’s resignation speech was a great exclamation point to the season, as he gave a number of strange justifications for leaving. One justification went like this: “I’m a free bird and I’ve been handcuffed.” Or another one: “I think I had more fun when I was able to be the big brother and the ambassador to everybody.” Johnson continued: “I thought about Dwyane Wade retiring and I can’t even tweet it out, I can’t be there.”
So Magic Johnson is essentially telling us that he left his job so he could get back on NBA twitter.
This Lakers season has shown that the big market method of building teams that teams such as the Lakers and the Knicks have traditionally advocated for is failing. NBA markets are growing across the board and the small city teams are not as disadvantaged as they used to be. Big markets like the Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Knicks have struck out on their free agency acquisitions over the last 10 years. The Bulls haven’t gotten anyone besides Wade — far past his prime, no less — and the Knicks landed big names like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah after years of injuries had hampered their performances. Even the Lakers’ getting LeBron has been qualified now, as it appears he is heading into the twilight of his career.
The teams that have built themselves through smart player development and drafting such as the Warriors, the Celtics and the Raptors have demonstrated how to succeed in today’s NBA, which differs vastly from yesteryear’s in terms of cap flexibility, team chemistry and the amount of players that are buying into the team culture and system.
The Lakers method of using the flash of Los Angeles, Calif. and the stardom of Magic Johnson to attract great players doesn’t seem to be working in the way that everyone hoped it might, and it seems less and less likely now that Paul George, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins or Kawhi Leonard are ever actually coming to join LeBron. Before any of that can even happen, the Lakers have to instead worry about actually getting a coach and a general manager, and the current state of affairs hasn’t given fans any reason to have faith that they will do a good job with those hires, either.