Once a symbol of manifest destiny, West Coast dreams coming true and a time and a place more hopeful and civilized, now the Lakers don’t shine so bright …and that’s sad—for everyone.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ current president of basketball operations, will likely land somewhere between Magic Johnson talk show host and Magic Johnson delivering Starbucks and multiplexes to traditionally black neighborhoods.
Johnson’s most recent tenure with Los Angeles as front office decider and architect of what fans hope will be third version of the Showtime Laker dynasty since the ‘80s has thus far been blessed with luck. On February 21, 2017, Johnson replaced team heir Jim Buss in the role and less than three months later the ping pong balls would fall in Earvin’s favor landing the Lakers the no. 2 pick in this year’s draft.
There was no speculation over who the pick would be: Lonzo Ball, the homegrown son of the most outspoken sports stage maven since Earl Woods. Ball, the most talent-laden guard in a class dripping with talent and guards, entered the draft after one disappointing-to-remarkable individual highlight-packed season in Westwood.
According to Magic, Ball instantly is the “new face of the Lakers.”
The Lakers have had a scant amount of time to audition new faces since Kobe’s decline and merciful retirement in 2016. The most notable of them being D’Angelo Russell, who at only 21 in his second season averaged 28 minutes/15 points and showed some flash (especially on defense) that will likely land him an a quasi-permanent All-Star gig in the East as he got shipped to the Nets on Friday. “…We want to thank him for what he did for us,” Magic said. “But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”
Again, he’s 21.
Magic’s second stroke of luck was his ability to ditch Timofey Mozgov’s four-year, $64 million contract to the Nets in the Russell deal. He basically dangled a player so good to offset a contract so bad. Many feel once LeBron James, Paul George and James Harden can exercise their player options, starting next summer, Magic will have cap room to lure a top-line player to sign for the league max neath the Hollywood sign.
The problem is Los Angeles today isn’t Los Angeles of Magic’s day. We’re kind of all homogenized now because, internet and kitchens with subway tiles and the fact that everyone is trying all the time to point their phone’s camera back at themselves and be famous for the length of a .gif. Plus, you can just fly somewhere for dinner if you want when you’re in the N.B.A.
So, it’s not like the day when Magic got plunked down in Tinseltown and was instantly given an Arsenio sidekick and the keys to a Randy Newman video. Sure, L.A. is still teeming with stars, but so is Atlanta and New Orleans and Toronto and Brooklyn and San Antonio and Memphis—after all, it’s cheaper to film/live in those spots. L.A. mostly gets YouTubers on the come up trying to put together five minutes for the Comedy Store or Insta fitness models taking selfies sipping something green through a straw on the Griffith Park trails. Hell, thanks to the condom law most of the porn stars of Magic’s prime have been driven from the San Fernando Valley and into the strip mall hinterlands of Phoenix and Vegas.
So L.A. isn’t L.A, and Cleveland isn’t Cleveland and Milwaukee isn’t Milwaukee…but Detroit is definitely still Detroit in today’s N.B.A.—which is why the league’s traditional case of ringworm in Golden State is now a juggernaut and the Clippers are the town’s basketball franchise of record, predicted to roll deep into their seventh straight playoffs and burnished by the recent hire of Lakers’ GOAT and dynasty architect Jerry West. And it’s also why the Lakers, long the league’s glam brand and the sporting event to see-or-be-seen at, is now a place where Jack Nicholson gets a side of oxygen with his courtside nachos and guys in the bleeders with Kobe jerseys gaze longingly at their devices as they watch Joel Embiid’s 2017 demo reel.
The Lakers will always be the Lakers just like the Yankees will always be the Yankees—you can’t take away banners. The Yankees wasted a decade learning the MLB things-have-changed lesson and eventually re-built the organization from the foundation up. Today, they’ve got young core pitchers, a superstar-on-the-rise in Aaron Judge and and a first-place record. …Now if they could only get A-Rod off the books.
Of all people at the helm, Magic should know this is a time to create. Instead of waiting for a LeBron to materialize in a chalk cloud of royal gold and purple, he ought to bank on development from within. Maybe the answer is Ball. Maybe it’s Ball plus three or future lucky balls bouncing his way at the draft. Who knows? What we do know is parity is king and location, location, location is only a thing when wi-fi is involved in today’s N.B.A.