Shockingly, Magic Johnson stepped down as the head operations of basketball related issues with the Lakers last night. Basically, he is done trying to get and sign big name free agents for the team he once starred for.
This stunned me when I heard the news yesterday. I know that this season went about as bad as possible for the Lakers. Things looked bright and it seemed like they would easily get back in the playoffs after they got LeBron to sign a 4 year deal. But then, things just kind of went haywire.
The problems started in the offseason after the James signing. I guess he had told Magic that he wanted some vets, so he and Rob Pelinka went out and signed guys like Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley. They also let Robin Lopez and Julius Randle walk. Magic also traded D'Angelo Russell last offseason so they could draft Lonzo Ball. When I saw their projected roster, I was confused, but figured LeBron would make it work.
When the season started, it was going fine. They were nestled into the 4 or 5 spot, and seemed playoff bound. But then things got really bad. LeBron got hurt on Christmas day while the Lakers were throttling the Warriors. He missed more time than he ever has in his career. This was, by far, the worst injury he has ever suffered. The team did not play great in his absence either. Brandon Ingram wasn't making the leap that many, myself included, thought he would. Ball still has a trash jumper, and he got hurt too. Josh Hart totally disappeared. Kentavious Caldwell Pope was playing like himself, which is to say, he is mediocre. McGee proved he isn't much of a starter. He is so much better as an energy guy. Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson were jokes. And Rondo was Rondo. He griped about a lot this year.
Then, Magic decided he was going to go all in on AD. AD made his trade request very, very public, and LeBron's agent and buddy Rich Paul were just as vocal. Magic decided he was going to do whatever it took to get another superstar in LA, even if it meant destroying their future. He put up Ball, Ingram, Beasley, Ivan Zubac, Lance Stephenson and picks to try and get AD. The Pelicans, who seemed to be simply messing with LA, kept asking for more. This destroyed the locker room because all these young guys took it way, way too seriously, and their play suffered. After "activating playoff mode", LeBron came back too early, and the Lakers couldn't even beat a team like the Suns. Then Magic comes out after the blown trade and says he is going to talk to the young guys that he put on the block. He tried the whole "this is a business" thing, but the damage had been done. And LeBron did not help at all. He looked disengaged, never sat by the team on the bench, they had a team meeting where the young guys told him how they felt and he couldn't have cared less, and the Lakers got officially eliminated earlier than they did last season.
With the uncertainty that they may not get AD until next offseason, I think Magic saw the writing on the wall. I think he realized that he won't be the one to get the Lakers back to contention. I think he realized getting LeBron was more so for life after basketball as opposed to winning titles. But I think the botched trade is what put the nail in the coffin for him. I think he finally realized that this is an entire new generation of players, and he can't keep up with the times. But, the way he did it is odd. To just up and quit, without telling pretty much anyone involved with the organization is odd. To say he has felt "handcuffed" is absurd to me. He willingly took this job. I think he is leaving because he realizes it's a different game. I also think he is fed up with all the tampering fines. But man, what a cowardly way to go out. To just essentially "drop the mic" on a team that he was supposed to be able to lure big time stars to is sad.
I loved Magic Johnson the basketball player. But, he is proving that he cannot do much good as a coach or executive. He has spectacularly failed at both of those, and this season was the icing on the crap cake for him. I don't know where the Lakers go from here, but this season was bad enough, and now with Magic gone, the offseason may be worse. Time will tell.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing, the other host of the X Millennial Man Podcast, and the greatest basketball writer on the internet.
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