CLEVELAND — Magic Johnson has some suggestions for Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni. They’re not of the “Welcome to L.A.” variety.
Johnson says it “makes no sense” to relegate Pau Gasol to the perimeter when the Lakers power forward is healthy.
“Gasol, to me, is the key to this whole thing,” Johnson said at Dodger Stadium, where he attended a Dodgers news conference Tuesday. “But if you continue to have him at the three-point line, he’s not going to perform well because he hasn’t been out there, especially with Phil Jackson and the Lakers [and] when he was playing in Memphis. He was down low.”
A vocal proponent of hiring Jackson when Mike Brown was fired last month, Johnson wasn’t quite done.
“You got to find a way to get Gasol going,” he added. “If I’m D’Antoni, you know what’s the first thing I would do when I got the job? ‘Where do you like it?’ Because that’s where I’m going to give it to him.”
Kobe Bryant agreed, saying Gasol should “definitely” be in the post, “no question about it.”
Johnson, a Lakers vice president who does not draw a salary, seemed conflicted by the team’s chaos, the Lakers now 9-13 and 2-7 on the road.
On one hand, he advocated patience, realizing the need to get back Gasol from knee tendinitis (he has missed five games) and Steve Nash from a leg fracture (he has missed 20).
But Johnson called D’Antoni’s offense a bad match, saying it “doesn’t fit the talent that the Lakers have.”
“You can’t run with this team. Where are the runners? You got one dude who can get up and down the court and that’s Kobe,” Johnson said, before calling Metta World Peace his old name.
“Ron [Artest], love him, but he’s slow. Both of our big men — not fast guys. [D’Antoni] has got to say, ‘Maybe I should scale it back.’”
Luke Walton has been part of the Cleveland Cavaliers for nine months. It doesn’t stop him from settling on someone else’s games with the remote control.
“Eight and a half years, it became a second family to me,” he said of his time with the Lakers. “I still root for them and I still watch their games on the NBA package. But most of my time and energy are all out here and what we’re getting done out here.”
There wasn’t much done out here until the Cavaliers beat the Lakers on Tuesday, 100-94.
Walton did not play, continuing a long stretch of bench time for the 32-year-old veteran. The most minutes he logged this season were in the opener, 12 of them leading to two points against Washington. He has appeared in only five games since then and hasn’t scored in any of them.
Walton’s scoring average this season is 0.3. He is in the last year of a six-year contract paying him $5.8 million this season.
If this is his last NBA season, it has been a great run for the former second-round pick. He was part of two championship teams and advanced to the NBA Finals two other times.
The Cavaliers are different. If they played the Lakers more often, maybe they’d be better, but they are 5-17.
“You start thinking about the losses and there’s nights you literally can’t sleep,” said Walton, acquired by Cleveland last season in the trade that sent Ramon Sessions to the Lakers. “I try to focus in on the positive, coming in, working, trying to be a good role model to some of the younger players.”
The Lakers could use some positive energy, though Walton said he isn’t worried about them.
“They’re going to be fine,” he said. “With the team they have and the talent they have and the playoff experience they have, whether they’re the one seed or the eight seed, they’re going to be able to compete and beat any team in this league. It’s a long season.”
Bresnahan reported from Cleveland. Rohlin reported from Los Angeles.