Magic Johnson: Lakers rebuild will take three to five years

Lakers legend Magic Johnson attends a game between UCLA and Oregon at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 9.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Magic Johnson’s timeline for rebuilding the Lakers does not jibe with that of Jim Buss, who said he would resign as executive vice president of basketball operations if the team failed to make a deep playoff run by 2017-2018. But it does align with first-year Coach Luke Walton’s assessment of the process.

In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that aired Monday, Johnson, who was brought on as an advisor to Lakers co-owner and President Jeanie Buss on Feb. 2, said, “It’s going to take three to five years to get them back rolling again.

“It’s different than when I played,” the Hall of Fame Lakers point guard continued. “In today’s NBA, you have to really develop your own players because free-agent movement isn’t like it used to be. You have to make sure you hit a home run when you draft and try to keep the players you have on your roster.”

Asked after Monday’s practice how he felt about Johnson’s timeline, Walton said, “Three to five years sounds normal for a rebuild.”

The young and inconsistent Lakers (19-37) have surpassed last season’s win total entering Tuesday night’s game against Sacramento, but they are out of playoff contention, 6½ games behind eighth-seeded Denver in the Western Conference.

Johnson, who has criticized some of Jim Buss’ coaching hires and free-agent signings, has sent mixed signals about his ultimate role. He told Spectrum SportsNet after his hiring that “Jim is calling the shots,” but in an interview with USA Today on Friday, Johnson said he is “working to call the shots.”


Johnson said Monday he will work “on the business side as well as the basketball side,” advising executives on personnel moves, mentoring players and recruiting free agents. After guiding the Lakers to a 5-11 record as an interim coach in 1993-94, he has no desire to return to the sideline.

“Dr. Buss wanted me to coach for 16 games, and that was the worst time in my life,” Johnson said, referring to the late Jerry Buss, longtime Lakers owner and Jeanie and Jim’s father. “I never wanted to be a coach. Coaching is difficult. You’ve gotta deal with egos, playing time and all of that. That’s not a specialty of mine. But I understand the game inside and out.”

Walton said he plans to meet with Johnson soon and is looking forward to his input. Second-year point guard D’Angelo Russell recently spoke on the phone with Johnson, floor general of the Lakers “Showtime” teams that won five NBA championships from 1980 to 1988.

“He’s ready to work with me every opportunity he gets,” Russell said. “I feel like whatever he has to offer, I’m gonna be a sponge.”

Johnson said he has had four offers to run NBA teams, including one from the New York Knicks, but he turned them down because “the only team and franchise I would ever go to is the Lakers,” he said. That opportunity arose in a late-January meeting with Jeanie Buss.

“We’ve had our annual dinner to talk about the status of the Lakers,” Johnson said. “I began to tell her what I felt about the team and the direction the team was headed, and I didn’t think it was a good direction.

“I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ She said, ‘I’m going to make some changes.’ I said, ‘OK, what are you going to do? Who are you going to bring in?’ She said, ‘You.’ ”

A hot mess

The Lakers, coming off a five-game, 10-day trip, did not practice Sunday, but Walton took them on a field trip: a hot yoga class at SoHo Yoga in Los Angeles. It was a first for most players.

“That was tough,” rookie forward Brandon Ingram said. “It was hot in there.”

Did Ingram get a little light-headed?

“I got a little everything,” he said. “It was good for the team to get away from basketball for a day, but I don’t know that I’ll be doing more of it in the future. I think I’m gonna stay in the gym and do what I do.”

Forward Julius Randle said he was still “feeling the effects” of the class during Monday’s practice.

“I’m probably the least flexible person you’ll meet,” Randle said. “I was trying, though.”

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna