Lakers coach Byron Scott chuckled when Magic Johnson’s name was mentioned.
“That’s my boy,” Scott said with smile after winning all three of his NBA championships with Johnson during the Lakers’ “Showtime Era.”
But Scott respectfully disagreed with Johnson’s persistent criticism on Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss.
“I’ve been very happy with Jim. I think Jim has done a great job,” Scott said after morning shootaround on Tuesday. “I think he obviously put us in a position this summer to do some good things. It just depends on if we can get those things done this summer, obviously. But being around him as much as I have this past six or seven months, personally I like him and professionally I think he’s doing all the right things right now. The bottom line is once this season is all said and done, I think everybody in Lakerland knows that this is a big summer and it could be a very great summer as well for us.”
The Lakers (13-38) enter Tuesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets (19-33) at Staples Center with few positive developments. They have lost 13 of their past 14 games. The Lakers will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Lakers are 18 losses away from cementing their worst record in franchise history.
But all of that poor play could ensure the Lakers land in a top five draft pick, a reality that must happen to avoid trading their draft selection to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Steve Nash trade. With Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, Nick Young and Ryan Kelly as the lone players with guaranteed contracts for the 2015-16 season, the Lakers also have enough cap space to sign a marquee free agent at a max-level contract.
Yet, Johnson has criticized Jim Buss for his rebuilding efforts after seeing the Lakers strike out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony last summer, while also seeing Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol leave the Lakers in consecutive seasons. Johnson has also taken issue with Jim Buss for the Lakers hiring Mike Brown in 2011 and Mike D’Antoni in 2012, though the Lakers have maintained the late owner Jerry Buss made the final call on those decisions.
“I think he gets a lot of blame for a lot of stuff that’s not in his control,” said Scott, referring to the Lakers’ endless list of injuries in past seasons. “But that’s people, that’s fans. I guess in his position, just like as a coach, you have to deal with that as well, if it’s fair or unfair. I don’t think he loses a ton of sleep over it. When you hear other people’s opinion about what you’re not doing or what you’re doing. I don’t lose a ton of sleep over that. I lose more sleep over when we lose games because of the loss and maybe some things I thought I could have done better. I question myself more than anybody. But other than that, I don’t really listen to what outside people say and I don’t think he does either.”
Yet, Johnson’s criticism is different because of his prominence with the Lakers. He played a large part obviously with helping the Lakers win five NBA championships during the Showtime Era. Johnson also remains an unpaid vice president with the Lakers after selling his 4.5 percent share to Patrick Soon-Shiong in 2010.
“I don’t go out on the street and ask people what do you think of what Earvin said. So I don’t know,” Scott said. “There’s probably going to be some negative thoughts about it when he says some critical things. But that’s just Buck being Buck. The one thing about him he loves this organization, so he’s not trying to say it to be malicious or anything like that. He’s saying it because of the love for the organization. He wants this organization to be back to where it was when he was here. And we all do. So I think he’s probably frustrated just like everybody else.”
Yet, unlike his criticisms regarding Brown and D’Antoni, Johnson has yet to criticize Scott amid the Lakers’ poor record.
“That’s my boy,” Scott said, laughing. “I think he’s going to be supportive of me until I really mess up or something. If I started messing up, he’ll be the first one to tell you the truth. And that’s how it should be. That’s how it should be so I don’t have a problem with that.”
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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at email@example.com