Stuck in limbo, Lakers still could work their magic

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J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com

He had long ago delivered passes and pioneered the Showtime era. He was a competitor, a five-time champion who led a framed franchise to glory.

At the helm of the Lakers dominant run was the legendary point guard Magic Johnson. With the ball in his hands, he indeed worked his magic and made everyone around him better. Jeanie Buss, team owner, handed the ball to a basketball maven and a true visionary. The city’s basketball team this offseason requires a surgical facelift that would result in a structural change of direction.

Back in the saddle after taking on a rebuilding project that seems imposing, demanding and difficult, the ball is bouncing in his court with free agency approaching and a market full of big names such as LeBron James and Paul George. Johnson, serving as the team president, knows there’s more at stake in this year’s free agency frenzy.

The Lakers have fallen into the habit of losing in succession, losses they couldn’t shrug off as seasons progressed. They couldn’t erase the sting of letdowns and haven’t made the playoffs in five years. The Lakers had plunged into an abyss of despair that never escaped them. And through it all, they slowly faded into the darkness and haven’t won a playoff series in six years.

At season’s end, L.A. fans were over it and had already started counting down to the free agency craziness. At the moment, Johnson fears the intense pressure put on him to sign star free agents and make every effort to rebuild the Lakers completely. The one way, with his passion and intellect, to create the right environment for a winning culture is to sell the basketball product.

The thing is, the Lakers have not assured players of their ability to accumulate championships at a historic rate. So, with that, big names rebuff interest and instead find another franchise in another city they can call their home and earn just as much money as they would have in L.A. The other thing is, veteran free agents are not committed to joining a non-contending franchise when they rather sign a long-term deal with stacked teams that deliver multiple championships. So because of that, big shots turn down the offer and instead wind up in a small-market town as the Lakers usually get outbid by buyers for high-profile players.

They have a young star in Kyle Kuzma, whose massive offensive potential demonstrates much promise while he presently develops under progressive leadership. There’s Brandon Ingram, whose versatility to the front court and nimble playmaking are pieces of evidence that these Lakers have silhouetted on the horizon.

But even with their combination of youth and emerging talent, seasoned players could opt to stay in their respective cities and re-sign to the maximum or play somewhere like Philadelphia, Boston or Houston. Instead, these days they show keen interest in going someplace where teams are expected to be in the playoff picture. Players, in previous summers, have turned one gaze away from a media-friendly, drama-filled town and a global brand that disappeared in the storm.

Now serving as the team president, it is Magic’s task to make certain he completes renovations of the most celebrated franchise. Now that he succeeded an incompetent Jim Buss, who was relieved of his duties, Johnson has accepted responsibility for whatever happens.

He says if he can’t build the Lakers back together again, he would step down. If memory serves us correctly, he said the rebuilding process could take two summers the day he presided over the personnel decisions a little over a year ago. It was his mid-season trade that laid the groundwork for a busy and productive offseason.

It is widely supposed to be the summer that the Lakers make a big splash in the free agency pool. This team may not be sufficient to tempt star players from this year’s class and could potentially welcome Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2019 when he becomes a free agent. But Johnson is confident he could make major additions through free agency right now.

The dimensions of the difficulty for building around free agents have been more of a hindrance than a convenience for the Lakers. Still there’s no guarantee LeBron is coming to Hollywood. But it only makes sense when he has aspirations to build an entertainment empire. And it is by no means certain that George will choose home over Oklahoma City.

It would be huge if Johnson could pull the trigger more readily and bolster the fortunes of a worldly recognized franchise. Yet it’s impossible not to put your trust in Magic. It’s possible to believe he can pull off something and make the Lakers relevant once again. His team is mired as much uncertainty as ever, but as always the Lakers like their chances.

The man before Magic didn’t know what to do with the Lakers, except commit consumer’s feud by stealing money that hardworking, passionate fans dumped on an inferior team that became the laughingstock of the league.

It won’t be easy—never is—but the only way the Lakers could make anything happen is through a little Magic. Hopefully now he delivers on his promise he made to everyone in L.A., the day he took a rewarding but burdensome job.

This is a Lakers town, and folks here believe in Magic.

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