After the Kings made the most head-scratching move of the NBA season Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers asked them to hold their beer Tuesday, firing general manager Mitch Kupchak and hiring Hall of Famer Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations.
Jim Buss was also removed from his position as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations as part of the restructure, which allowed the Lakers to reclaim their spot as the top clown show in California.
Look, it’s possible Magic hires the right people around him—Sam Hinkie is available!—so there is absolutely a chance that this move isn’t a total disaster. For now? The Lakers have a rookie head coach, an uncertain future, and a President of Basketball Operations known more for his mind-numbingly obvious tweets than basketball acumen in 2017.
And why make this move two days before the trade deadline? Sam Amick reports Buss and Kupchak’s failure to land DeMarcus Cousins—who apparently could’ve been had for a draft pick and an autographed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar jersey—helped lead to their ouster. But now Los Angeles will have to re-tool on the fly, and some of the GM names being floated out (Rob Pelinka?) also wouldn’t necessarily bring the appropriate experience into the front office.
The departure of Buss is somewhat of a silver lining. Jim never appropriately filled the large shoes left behind by his father Jerry, and the power struggle between him and his sister Jeanie seemed to put a serious strain on the organization. But the haste to put Johnson in an overseeing role makes little sense, especially if he wields his final-say powers too exuberantly. (Or maybe not! Magic does have a keen eye for talent.)
What may be most shocking is how not shocking this move is considering the Lakers’ recent history. Los Angeles’s decision to retain Kobe on a monstrous contract stunted the rebuild of the franchise. The show of good faith to a franchise superstar is supposed to resonate with other players, but the Lakers have also routinely struck out in free agency throughout this decade. The organization has been a rudderless, unchecked mess since the Dwight Howard/Kobe-injury season, and Magic’s hiring is the latest move that looks backward instead of toward the future.
And despite some young talent, Los Angeles is facing a complicated climb back to championship relevance. Outside of Brandon Ingram, none of the Lakers' young players have superstar potential, and Johnson (and his new GM) will also have to find a way to work around some onerous contracts handed out to LuolDeng and TimofeyMozgov.
Frankly, the situation in L.A. calls for far more experience than what Johnson brings as the head of the basketball department. It’s situation that calls for an outsider, someone who isn’t enamored by the franchise’s past and whose expectations won’t be outsized due to a false sense of the Lakers’ place in the NBA hierarchy. Johnson certainly wouldn’t seem to fit those criteria.
Ultimately, there’s hope for the Johnson move to not be a total lost cause. But the Lakers have been clinging to their past for too long, one that grows more and more irrelevant with each passing day. And unless Johnson can lace it up and still give the Lakers a triple double while starting at center, hiring a Hall of Famer won’t magically erase the obstacles in Los Angeles’s future.