During an ESPN-hosted conference call with reporters this morning, Magic Johnson, who’s been working for the network in the studio during the NBA Finals on ABC, didn’t dodge the questions we threw his way.
Starting with last night’s Dodger game.
Q: Were you able to follow what was going on in the Dodger game (with the brawl against the Arizona Diamondbacks) while you were working on the NBA Finals? It got a little crazy there.
A: You’re up against a division rival, Kirk Gibson coaches tough, guys get hit, pitchers are going to respond … it’s unfortunate we have to be involved in that. But that’s the way it went and we have to wait for suspensions and see what happens. At the same time, we cant’ back down from anybody. We have to stand up and that’s what happened.
Q: How were you able to multitask there with the NBA Finals going on in front of you (while you’re in San Antonio) and keep tabs on the Dodgers?
A: You try to do two things at once. That’s why they got all these hand-held devices (laughs). The easy thing in the studio is we have so many monitors, I can watch both.
I love my team and we’re starting to turn the corner offensively. And I gotta thank the fans. They’ve been fantastic. It’s a fun and exciting time to be a Dodger fan.
Q: Give us your state of the Lakers at this point:
A: The state now is making a decision on Dwight Howard. The Buss family, and Mitch (Kupchak) are going to have to sit down and have a strategy on what they want to do. And once they do that, the next thing is Kobe Bryant, his return hopefully, coming back strong and healthy. And then they have to decide if — if, I’m not saying they will — they want to amnesty someone or not. A year from now with all the cap space they’ll have, the Lakers will be able to find two or three players and put them in a position to be a great franchise for the next five years if they make the right moves and make the right decisions.
I’m excited about next summer. This is going to be tremendous. The Lakers just can’t make dumb decisions now to mess up that cap space.
Q: Are the Lakers a better team with Dwight Howard moving forward?
A: I don’t know. It just depends on how you put around him if they decide to sign him. Then, Dwight has to get better. I’m not happy with this Dwight Howard. But if he gets in the gym and works on his game and some go-to moves, it’ll be wise to sign him. He has a lot to do this summer on his offensive skills. He’s always a dominate rebounder and shot blocker.
And we have to remember this game has changed a lot. There are not too many Dwight Howards any more. Now it’s about the point guard, the 2-guard, the small forward, the power forward like (Pau) Gasol or Chris Bosh who goes inside or outside. So the Lakers have to make a decision on whether Dwight can be the face of this franchise for the next 10 years, if they can win championships with him.
Q: What about keeping Mike D’Antoni as the coach, with the style he uses and the players he needs for his system. Can that succeed here?
A: You know, I don’t like coach D’Antonio’s system in terms of him not coaching defense. I think he has to do a better job defensively because no matter what he says, his system is trying to out-score the other team. You can’t just out-score people. Both of these teams in the finals have proven you gotta be great defensively if you want to win a championship. And the Spurs are doing a wonderful job of displaying that. And the Miami Heat, when they play great defense like they are capable, they are unbeatable when they turn their defense up.
Coach D’Antoni is going to have to change his approach because he didn’t win a championship in Phoenix – they were fun to watch, but they didn’t get it done. He didn’t get it done in New York. And he sure didn’t show us that he could get it done with the Lakers. Yet.
So he’s got to concentrate on the defensive end just as much as they do offense. And then if they sign Dwight Howard, they’re going to definitely need to get on the same page. If (D’Antoni) is going to be our coach, and (Howard) is going to be our star player, they have to get on the same page, and last season they were not on the same page.
Q: If you were putting a coach into place with the Clippers, you’ve got team chemistry to think about with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and there’s a Brian Shaw or a Byron Scott out there who can step in as the coach, which one of them might fit best?
A: I like both of them. Brian Shaw is ready to be a head coaching the NBA and has coached under some incredible coaches like Phil Jackson and Larry Brown. He’s been under coaches who’ve been to the playoffs. Byron took the Nets to back to back finals, so you know he can coach, he’s from L.A. worked with Chris already, You’ve got two great coaches, and Lionell Hollins is unbelievable, too. You have some guys who’d represent L.A. and the Clippers well and have respect in the locker room. And they would and they’ve won and been in big games. That’s’ what you need …
The Clippers need someone who can push (Paul and Griffin) and be tough on them and teach them how to be a championship team.