Showtime: Can Magic Johnson Rebuild The LA Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers shocking move to reshuffle their front office to put Magic Johnson into the captain’s seat, so to speak, has come at a point where the franchise is truly at a crossroads. This type of shake up of the basketball operations of a team at this time in the season is unusual. The Lakers brought in Johnson as an “adviser” about three weeks ago, and now he is running the show.

The rationale for the decision is pretty clear: the Lakers, who are a storied NBA franchise, have been struggling for the past few seasons. The team has some young players that are talented on their roster, but they need a significant amount of work to get from the bottom of the standings back into a championship contender.

The Lakers are currently 19-39 and are spinning their wheels trying to find their identity in the post-Kobe Bryant period in their franchise history. The 2016-17 Lakers resemble a similar narrative to other teams in NBA history in the years immediately following the transition from a roster dominated by a megastar level player.

The challenging factor in the scenario is developing the right strategy to rebuild the roster and rejuvenate it back to contention. The Lakers are going to make some big, bold moves to improve this team, but they will also do it in a calculated manner.

The more pressing impetus for the move to shake up the front office on the basketball operations side of the house, is to get the core fans excited about the future of this franchise. The change to Magic Johnson certainly will create a sense of hope for the fans that the future in L.A. should improve in the near term.

This decision was a bold one from Jeannie Buss because she had to move her brother, Jim, out of the basketball operations role and back to being a co-owner. She had to separate her family ties to look at the situation as to how it relates to what the best path forward for the team would be at this point.

This decision to move forward with Magic Johnson, who won so many titles with the Lakers during the “Showtime” years, will most certainly be compared with the decision that the New York Knicks made to turn over their basketball operation to Phil Jackson. It is even more ironic that Jackson played a huge role in the success of the Lakers as their head coach and is the former fiancé of Jeannie Buss.

The fans in New York are largely dissatisfied with the tenure of Phil Jackson, and the relative lack of progress shown on reshaping the Knicks to be a successful basketball team. The Lakers fans have to hope that Magic does a lot more to shape the Lakers up than Phil Jackson has done so far with the Knicks in a similar role.

Magic Johnson obviously knows the essential elements in building a successful basketball team from the player personnel side, and he is also a successful business man, so his skill set seems very well suited to his new position within the Lakers organization. Nevertheless, it is a steep challenge taking this roster and reshaping it into a championship contender.

I think the cache that is the Lakers brand and reputation will certainly help Magic in this endeavor. The Lakers may even have some good fortune in attracting free agents because the Knicks have created so many issues for themselves between the Charles Oakley debacle and the Carmelo Anthony botched situation. The situation in New York is so bad that one current player remarked recently to the media that “nobody will go to the Knicks”.

The Lakers have been linked to current Indiana Pacers guard, Paul George, and although they could not get a deal done at the trade deadline, it is largely expected that George will join the Lakers as soon as he is able to within league guidelines.

The expectation throughout the league is that similar situations to those of Paul George will also transpire in the summer months of the offseason. The name of Russell Westbrook has been linked to the Lakers for some time now, and that speculation will probably only ratchet up further with the injection of Magic Johnson into the situation.

Some of the talent on the roster such as Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell could be the building blocks for the next version of the Lakers. The new perspective that Johnson will bring into the job will be fascinating to see as the months move forward.

There is one certainty especially if you ask a Knicks fan: Magic would be hard pressed to do much worse than Phil Jackson has done in the same role in New York. The Lakers need to get back to their championship pedigree, and Magic Johnson is just the right person to take them there.

Why Phil Jackson Will Not Coach The Knicks

The New York Knicks are in a tailspin, everyone who follows basketball knows that, and the rumors have been swirling that their head coach, Mike Woodson, is going to be fired as soon as next week. The speculation is that the Knicks front office will go with an interim head coach for the remainder of the season, and pursue Phil Jackson to be the next head coach for the long term.


I have been a Knicks fan for a very long time, and I can state with a fair amount of certainty that Phil Jackson will not be the next head coach of the team. My rationale is simple: Jackson has been offered the job before and declined it, the roster of the team is a mess that is not easily fixed, and the owner is too intrusive.


In addition, Phil Jackson has won his championships, he has made a ton of money coaching, and he is retired with some health issues. The Knicks have approached him and made overtures to him before and he has not been interested in the job. It is going to take a lot of money and a great sales pitch for Jackson to consider taking over the Knicks coaching duties at this point.


The Knicks will begin the second half of their season after the All Star festivities over this past weekend in New Orleans. I thought this would be a good time to evaluate the team and the future of the head coaching position in New York.


Roster Mess


The key motivation point for Phil Jackson to take the coaching job in New York would be the capability for the current roster to be championship-caliber. This roster at the present time is not winning a championship at any time soon, in fact it would be pressed at this point to make the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, that is saying very little, since the majority of the teams do not even have winning records.


Jackson is not going to coach here for a long period of time, he is 68 years old, and so this has to be a “win now” situation. The Knicks are set up to have several contracts expiring so they will have a great deal of salary cap room in the summer of 2015. That is still over a year away and it will take time to build team chemistry with an overhauled roster, so this will take a multi-year commitment from Jackson.


The Knicks current roster features poor point guard play, a shooting guard in J.R. Smith who plays erratically and inconsistently, an aging front court which has been injured more than they have spent time on the floor, and a star player in Carmelo Anthony who plans to test the free agent market at the end of this season.


The team needs depth at every position, a point guard, and a forward with size who can rebound and play defense. The Knicks also have virtually no draft picks because they have traded them away in deals to obtain veteran players from other teams in the past.


This is a key aspect in roster building because it takes away the ability to get younger players through the draft on more cost effective contracts. It also takes a key chip off the table in future trades where the Knicks could improve their team by trading draft picks and not parting with multiple players on their current roster.


Ownership drama


The final reason, and perhaps the most compelling reason, why Phil Jackson will not be the next head coach of the Knicks is the intrusive nature of their owner, James Dolan.  Dolan gets involved in every aspect of the Knicks and does not allow the head coach any power or control over the roster moves of the organization. Phil Jackson is a proven winner and is considered to be among one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He is going to be approached by other teams in search of a head coach.  Why would he take the job with the Knicks and have no control over the roster, when he could go somewhere else and have full control over player decisions?


The answer is that he would not come to New York and deal with the owner constantly making front office moves, firing the general manager on a whim and forcing the front office to make trades before they were ready to do so, like with Donnie Walsh and the trade for Carmelo Anthony.


Phil Jackson is not going to want any part of the front office drama that comes with the territory of being associated with a Knicks organization run by James Dolan.


I have seen the Knicks make some bizarre moves just when you thought they had a plan, they would make a trade or bring in a free agent that made no sense. That had started to change after the disaster of the Isaiah Thomas years, and Walsh had assembled a pretty good roster here at one point, and then this season happened.


The unorthodox style of the Knicks front office continues, when just last week, New York was linked to a potential trade with the Denver Nuggets for Kenneth Faried. Now, I think Faried is a talented player and a great athlete, but the move does not make sense from the Knicks perspective because they need size on the front line. Faried is an undersized power forward who can score, he is not known for his rebounding.

The Knicks currently use a smaller lineup with Carmelo Anthony playing the power forward spot and using his quickness, athleticism, and lethal shooting ability to score against bigger, slower players at that position. Kenneth Faried can score points but is in no way even in the same category as Anthony, who is one of the top players in the NBA. I do not understand why the Knicks would try to obtain another smaller guy to play power forward, neither did many reporters on the beat for the team. It is an example of strange moves by the front office in the Garden.  It is also yet another reason why Phil Jackson will not take this job.


At this point, I could see Mike Woodson coaching through the last 30 games of the season, and if the team misses the playoffs, then I think they would have to make a coaching change. The more feasible choice at that point could be Jeff Van Gundy, who has a history with the Knicks, so he knows how the franchise operates. He also has a reputation as more of a disciplinarian than other guys they could bring in, and I think the Knicks need a strong amount of discipline to turn this team around.


I would be shocked if Phil Jackson took this job, for all of these reasons, and because I am not sure that even his coaching greatness could fix the mess which is the New York Knicks.