The question seems as difficult to answer as it did in trying to stop of one of Magic Johnson’s no-look passes.
Will Johnson ultimately remain a Lakers advisor in matters pertaining to the franchise’s business and basketball operations? Or will the man that led the Lakers to five NBA championships on the court also be in charge of leading them from above?
Time will tell. But there does not seem to be any uncertainty on who Johnson would want along with him
“First call I make if I’m in charge? Kobe Bryant,” Johnson said on Tuesday on ESPN’s “First Take.” “Because Kobe understands winning. He understands, also, these players. So I would call, ‘What role you want? f you’ve got a day, just give me that day. I’ll take that. Whatever time he has, I want him to come and be a part of it.”
Bryant recently told ESPN Radio that he would love to help the Lakers after retiring this year from a storied 20-year NBA career with five NBA championships and a third-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list. Bryant also met recently with Lakers president Jeanie Buss. Yet, Bryant also emphasized he would prefer to have a behind-the-scenes role. Bryant also has remained busy with overseeing his company, Kobe. Inc, which has delved into multimedia storytelling.
Meanwhile, Johnson said he will devote “150 percent” effort into ensuring the Lakers rebuild after missing the playoffs for the last three seasons and finishing with the worst record in franchise history for the past two.
“It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take years,” Johnson said. “You have to first get a strategy number one and understand what mistakes we made in the past and own up to the mistake.s We have to hold people accountable. That’s what this is all about. If you understand the mistakes in the past, then you have to develop the young players we have.”
Johnson sounded tempered on the Lakers’ young core, including second-year guard D’Angelo Russell, third-year forward Julius Randle and rookie forward Brandon Ingram. He gushed about Russell’s talent before reiterating his want for him to have a stronger leadership role. Johnson repeated his hope for Randle to develop his right hand. Johnson believes Ingram is “definitely going to be a star” before expressing uncertainty if he will be a “super star.”
“They have the potential to be a star. We don’t know the super star [part],” Johnson said. “When you start saying ‘Superstar,’ that’s a whole other level. But we have to wait another year to see that. It’s like Steph Curry. He didn’t start off being Steph Curry, he developed into this Steph Curry.”
It remains to be seen if Johnson will wait another year on the front office dynamics after expressing plenty of criticism of Lakers executive Jim Buss in recent years amid coaching changes, free agency failures and unproven rosters. On seeking a larger role, Johnson said he “will put that on the table” when he meets with Jim Buss and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak next Monday.
Although he stressed the need for the team to have “one message, one team, one voice,” Johnson said he would not intervene between Jim Buss and Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss. While Jim Buss has overseen the basketball operations and Jeanie Buss has been in charge of business operations, the two have not often communicated with each other.
Yet, Johnson remained adamant his role will yield a net positive.
“If Magic Johnson is in that seat, guys are going to want to come play,” Johnson said. “I know business. I know how to win.”
Johnson argued the same thing about Lakers coach Luke Walton before praising Kupchak and Jim Buss for hiring him last summer.
“Luke is today’s players coach,” Johnson said. “He understands the offense he needs to run and can bring out the talent of these guys in terms of running that offense. Players want to be in a position where they can win. Luke Walton can put them in that position. Last but not last, he’s a gym rat. Luke loves to be in the gym and works guys out.”
Johnson has plans to meet with Walton at some point. He likely will mentor the team’s younger players, most notably Russell because of his position. But after going 5-11 as an interim coach in the 1993-94 season, Johnson had no interest in becoming involved with the Lakers’ coaching staff.
“I don’t mess with on court stuff,” Johnson said. “That’s not my role. I hold him accountable. What offense he wants to run, he’ll run that offense. My job is to judge him on all that, his offense, defense and how he interacts with the players. If they want me to come down on the court and work with D’Angelo and our point guards, that’s what I’m going to do. Other than that, I’l stay back in the back.”
Johnson then invoked the name of a certain Golden State executive that helped construct both the “Showtime Lakers” and the Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal tandem.
“I’ll do what Jerry West did for us,” Johnson said. “Anytime I had a question or I was down, I knew he was waiting for me. He pulled me up in the stands. He said ‘Young man, you need to be doing that, doing this. Thank you Jerry.’ I went down on that court and did all those things.”