Magic weighs in, and it’s heavy-duty
On day two of the regular season, the Lakers’ uneasiness continued.
Magic Johnson, who owns almost 5% of the team, offered critical remarks toward the organization and a biting analysis of the Kobe Bryant trade saga during his stint as a TNT analyst for the Lakers’ season-opening loss to Houston on Tuesday night. Johnson also suggested Lakers owner Jerry Buss could provide a calming voice to the situation.
Buss, however, was not at Tuesday’s game and will not be at Friday’s game in Phoenix because of a two-game suspension handed down by NBA Commissioner David Stern after Buss pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drunk driving in September. Buss was also fined $25,000 by the league.
Meanwhile, forward Lamar Odom on Tuesday suffered a mild concussion from a car accident. He was driving to the team’s shoot-around when he was involved in a two-car crash in Hawthorne. Odom went to a hospital for a CT scan. It will not affect his comeback from a sore shoulder that could keep him sidelined for two more weeks, the team said.
In part because of Odom’s absence, Johnson wasn’t overly optimistic about the team.
“The Lakers are always going to have a hard time if they don’t have all their weapons,” Johnson said during the telecast. “Without Lamar Odom, the Lakers are a very average team, and with him they are still the seventh- or eighth-seed team, so you can’t expect them to go up against a playoff-contender team and expect them to win the game.”
Johnson is also advocating a quick solution, be it Bryant staying or Bryant going.
“Watching the players and looking at their body language, they are going to have to make a decision about Kobe in the next week or two. It’s got to come to a head,” Johnson said. “You’ve either got to trade him or come out and say you’re going to keep him. Even Kobe needs it. He missed nine free throws [Tuesday]. It’s on his mind too.”
Bryant’s response: “He’s the owner. He should know something. I don’t worry about it. I think about playing. I’ve got to worry about Phoenix [on Friday]. That’s enough.”
On the other hand, Johnson said the best outcome was not dealing Bryant.
“I don’t think he’s going to get traded,” Johnson said. “I think they’ll try to keep him and make something happen in terms of trying to improve the team.”
Johnson could not be reached Wednesday.
The Lakers have had off-and-on talks with Indiana about Jermaine O’Neal, who expressed his unhappiness with the Pacers during the off-season. But with teams curious to see how they start out, there has not been any movement in those discussions.
Johnson has some experience in this area. He asked to be traded in November 1981. Almost the entire Lakers team had revolted against then-coach Paul Westhead when Johnson said, “I’ve got to go. . . . I haven’t been happy all season. . . . I’m going to talk to the man tomorrow and see if a trade will happen.”
That “man” was Buss. Westhead was fired the next day.
Johnson, like Bryant, wanted to go to Chicago or maybe even New York, but he found fault with Bryant’s desire to go to the Bulls. “Chicago is one of the first teams he said he’d want to be traded to, but what we have to understand, even if he does go to Chicago, he’s not going to be in a better situation because we’re going to take all their best players and he’s going to end up being in the same situation,” Johnson said. “Chicago with Kobe, with the guys they will have left after the Lakers take what they want, [is] not going to beat the other top teams in the East.”
It all comes back to Shaquille O’Neal, Johnson said, saying it was too bad Bryant and O’Neal couldn’t work together because having so much talent on one team was so rare.
Johnson shared the spotlight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which was good enough for five championships in the 1980s.
“If Kobe would have been smart, he would have mended those fences with Shaquille, let Shaquille be ‘The Man’ and we wouldn’t be in this position,” Johnson said. “Now, after four years later, he understands that he can’t do it by himself. Now he’s blaming the organization, and some of that blame should be on him and some on the organization.”
Johnson also had pointed words for the upper reaches of the Lakers’ hierarchy. “I’m upset with the management because there should only be one voice coming out of the Lakers organization,” he said.
“Right now you have too many voices -- Jim Buss, Mitch [Kupchak], you have too many people talking.
“Dr. Buss, if he wants to take the reins and be the only voice, he should be the only voice. Or if it’s Mitch, whoever it is, it should just be one voice like we used to have with Jerry West.”
Johnson, who presides over a slew of successful private enterprises, is relatively well-informed when it comes to the general goings-on of the Lakers, but he is not involved in day-to-day decision-making.
A day later, the boos were still being discussed.
Bryant was booed during pregame introductions Tuesday at Staples Center. He was also jeered the first time he touched the ball, but as the game went on, Lakers fans began cheering for him. “It just felt good to hear them come back around later in the game,” Bryant said Wednesday. “That’s the most important thing. They know. A smart fan can kind of read between the lines and can kind of decide for themselves what’s really going on. I just let it be. I just want to go out there and play the game that I love to play.”
The driver of the other car in Odom’s accident was identified as a 37-year-old woman from Downey. “At the time of the accident, it appeared the woman sustained very minor injuries,” Hawthorne Police Lt. Michael Ishii told the Associated Press.