In a somewhat agitated tone, Magic Johnson stared into the ESPN cameras and delivered a message aimed at one particular member of the Lakers’ front office.
“Jim Buss, brother, you have a job to do,” Johnson said as an ESPN NBA analyst. “I’m telling you right now because if you don’t do it, you’re going to hear from me.”
Johnson is obviously upset to see the Lakers lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games in the Western Conference semifinals. That marks the second consecutive season the Lakers lost in the second round, spurring the former Laker to suggest adding youth and speed to their roster even if it comes at the expense of trading Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol.
“Those are your tradeable pieces,” Johnson said of the Lakers’ two big men. “You still build around Kobe [Bryant]. He was still great no matter what his age is. This man showed he’s still dominant as a player. To me, you have to get younger and more athletic. Oklahoma City is young, athletic and fast. The team to beat is the team that knocked you out. That’s Oklahoma City and then the San Antonio Spurs.”
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in unequivocal terms after Wednesday’s exit interview “there will be some changes.” Kupchak provided no assurances regarding the future of Gasol, who has a two-year, $38-million contract. The general manager said he plans to exercise the $16.1-million team option on Bynum, but said it was too early to decide whether the Lakers will give Bynum a long-term extension. He simply said “No” when asked whether he had any outlook on the Lakers’ pending free agents, including Matt Barnes (unrestricted), Devin Ebanks (restricted), Troy Murphy (unrestricted), Jordan Hill (restricted) and Darius Morris (restricted).
Despite initially arguing the Lakers needed to shore up their speed and athleticism, Johnson found the idea of shopping Gasol and Bynum for other frontline talent pretty tantalizing.
“Josh Smith is out there. He’s not happy,” Johnson said of the Hawks’ power forward. “Call Atlanta. You have Gasol sitting there. You don’t know what Dwight Howard wants to do. Give Orlando a call because they would love to have Bynum in return for Howard if he doesn’t want to stay.”
It’s unlikely Johnson’s commentary reflects the Lakers’ thinking. It didn’t when he advocated for owner Jerry Buss to “blow this team up” before the Lakers fell to the Dallas Mavericks in a four-game sweep in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals.
Johnson sold his 4.5% stake in the Lakers in 2010. He recently joined Guggenheim Baseball Management, the new Dodgers ownership group. And the Lakers always mention Johnson’s stature and close relationship with Jerry Buss hardly suggests he’s in the know or has any influence on front-office decisions.
But that’s hardly going to stop Johnson from talking about the Lakers, or questioning Brown’s coaching.
“After you get past Dwight Howard, Bynum and Tim Duncan, that guy, Pau Gasol, is the best big man in basketball,” Johnson said. “Nobody has more skills than Gasol. The problem is you have him sitting on the high post. Yes, Mike Brown’s offense drives me crazy. How can you say this guys’ skills are eroding and he doesn’t have them? No, I’ve seen this man dominate in the playoffs and the regular season. If a team wants a big man, you have to call the Lakers. You have two sitting there that are great.”
E-mail the Lakers blog at email@example.com. Follow the Lakers blog on Twitter.