Do YOU Believe in Magic?

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By Joe Castro – 

A new hope came over the franchise when Magic Johnson took over as the Los Angeles Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations, this past Spring. With Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak being told to skip town, and with the Lakers bringing in a player-friendly GM in Rob Pelinka, things really turned a corner fast. Add to that, the Lakers sucking just bad enough to retain their top 3 draft pick last season, and they have the start of something to be excited about again.

With “Rob and Magic” heading the team, the Lakers have become relevant again, and are now mentioned in nearly every single free agent acquisition on the market. To say that the Lakers sales pitch of “Hey, we’re the Lakers, we used to be great, wanna play with us?” became old and stale would be a vast understatement. The Lakers were a joke, putting it bluntly, and the long-term signings of Deng and Mozgov proved that Jim and Mitch lost their competitive edge, as well as their ability to make sound basketball decisions.

Magic and Pelinka started their tenures by absolutely dominating this year’s draft by bringing in UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, who could be running the show in Purple and Gold for the next 10+ seasons. On top of that, they were able to trade away an asset who never proved himself in Russell, and an abysmal contract in Mozgov, for an All-Star caliber center, and the draft pick which netted them a potential star in Kuzma late in the draft. They also were very smart in only signing Caldwell-Pope to a one year contract, thus setting up the Lakers to be MAJOR players in next year’s free agent market.

Which leads us to the basis of this story, and the one thing that could derail this positive trajectory that the Lakers are currently on: Last week, Magic Johnson was accused of tampering with star wing and LA native Paul George by the Indiana Pacers, a scenario that became known as the Paul George situation this past summer. Even though George has voiced his desire to come to LA next offseason, the Pacers were reluctant to trade George to the Lakers, or to another Eastern Conference rival like Boston or Cleveland. Instead, they traded him to Oklahoma City, for what many felt was a horrible deal based on what they got in return. If you don’t think Indiana got robbed, go check out what Cleveland got for Kyrie and then give me a holler. But the trade is not the basis of Indiana’s complaint.

So what would cause the Pacers to file these charges against Magic and the Lakers? Some around the league feel that Magic might have gone out of his way and reached out to George directly. Could there have been a side deal made while George was still under contract with the Pacers?

Others are citing Magic’s interview on the Jimmy Kimmel show, where he joked about wanting George to be a Laker. Kimmel asked what Magic would say to George if they saw each other on vacation. Magic jokingly said, “Were going to say ‘Hi’ because we know each other”. He then added, “You just can’t say, ‘Hey, I want you come to the Lakers,’ even though I’m going to be wink-winking.” Johnson then gave an exaggerated wink. He then joked, “You know what that means, right?” The audience laughed and so did Kimmel, but the NBA doesn’t seem to find Magic’s antics amusing.

And this is where things get tricky. Magic has always been and will always be one of the most charismatic, entertaining and likeable people on the planet. He is one of the best basketball players of all time, and has overcome an infamous disease to be one of the most influential people of this generation in the community and around the NBA. He is a smart business man and has been involved with countless successful projects since his days with the Lakers. With all of that said, Magic needs to take a step back and stop being so “Magic” like. He needs to realize that his “joke” could end up costing the Lakers money, upwards of $5 million, a suspension of Magic himself, draft picks being forfeited or turned over to the Pacers, and worst of all, the blocking of the Lakers signing or trading for Paul George in the future!

While the Lakers can overcome the fine, suspension, and probably even the loss of draft picks, I am not sure how the Lakers’ fans and other potential free agents will view Magic’s major mistake. What if LeBron ONLY wants to play with George? What if George was that missing piece that would set the Lakers up to be title contenders for years to come? At this point, the “what if’s” are massive, and until the verdict comes down from the NBA, Lakers fans and those around the league have to just watch and wait.

This could all be water under the bridge. It could all blow over and end up being a slap on-the-wrist type warning for Magic. Or it could possibly block a perennial All-Star from joining the Lakers this next off-season. However this unfolds, Magic needs to understand that he needs to take his position more seriously, and that his smile can get him most anything in life, including some major trouble from his bosses at the NBA front offices.

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