For the first time since he assumed his new role with his former team, Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson addressed fans at Staples Center on Monday night at the 13th annual Lakers All-Access event, hosted by the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission.
Johnson spoke about an array of topics, including what it was like contacting Indiana Pacers general manager Larry Bird this past week.
"It was funny because the first thing he said to me, 'Are you crazy? Why are you getting into this?'" Johnson said, in part.
Lakers co-owner and president Jeanie Buss and head coach Luke Walton also addressed fans at the event.
What follows are some highlights from their comments:
Buss on the recent front-office overhaul: "It’s hard to put your finger on, and it’s certainly not the Laker basketball I’ve lived with and the years that Dr. [Jerry] Buss ran the Lakers, they only missed the playoffs twice in over 30 years, and that’s a remarkable feat. And to imagine not making the playoffs again for the fourth consecutive year is not the Laker basketball that I grew up wanting and it’s not the product that we want to deliver to the fans. So I think that we needed that kind of vision, and not only the way [Johnson] sees the basketball court and what goes on there, but also what the Lakers mean to the community and with how he governs that -- the fans are the best fans in the NBA, and we need to engage them and make them excited and hopeful, and that’s why we made the change."
Buss on why she didn’t make the decision sooner: "It was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. Certainly, I am a person who wants continuity, and change is difficult for anybody, but I agonized over it, thought about it and I think that’s what took so long to make the decision, is that it was so difficult. And I apologize to Lakers fans for taking that time. But it was something that had to be made in a very thoughtful way. 'Well,' some people would say -- 'the timing is unusual because it was a couple days before the trade deadline.' My thought was that, there really is no offseason in the NBA anymore, that you are constantly trying to plan for what’s coming up. So you have the trade deadline then you have the draft lottery, then you have the draft, then you have summer league -- it’s always something. So there really is never a right time to make a change like that. But once I knew in my heart that it was the right decision, then there was really no time like the present. And to have an opportunity to sign and wrap up somebody like Magic Johnson, whose schedule is always busy, and if you don’t seize an opportunity, then it might have disappeared. It was important to me once that decision was made to execute it and move decisively."
Buss on Johnson: "I think that when you think about an icon, somebody who like Muhammad Ali is an inspiration not only to his community but to the world. There are only a few names that really resonate, and Magic Johnson is one of those names."
Buss on Luke Walton: "When he was a player with the Lakers, there was a time period when he was injured and Phil Jackson, who I’m still close to, saw something in Luke that he saw in himself, and he began mentoring him because he knew someday we would need a great coach. Tonight, on my credential, I’ve got a nice picture of Luke with his smile and I told him, 'The force is with us. We’ve got Luke in the house.' I don’t think he even understands the natural charisma he has and the leadership qualities. He’s one of the very great people that can really connect with people on a level that is inspiring and inclusive. He’s got all the qualities that you need in a coach."
Buss on who she looks up to, other than her father: "I would say Robert Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots. He and my father were really good friends, because they both started in sports in the same way. They both owned World Team Tennis teams. My dad owned the Los Angeles Strings and Robert Kraft owned the Boston Lobsters ... Every year, on my father’s birthday, Robert Kraft would send my dad a bunch of lobsters. They stayed close their entire lives."
Buss on sports medicine: "There’s so much going on in sports medicine, and you have to be on the cutting edge -- not only to maximize the level of performance of an athlete but also to keep them healthy, and if they’re not healthy to get them back sooner. Because if you can take a star player and add one or two or three years to their career, you’re really maximizing what they can contribute, because there’s always a learning curve. And we’re watching this in real time with this young team that we’re watching them develop and grow and learn. In the NBA, playing time is the currency that we use, and when you take that currency of playing time and invest it in young players, that will pay dividends as you go on."
Buss on the latest NBA collective bargaining agreement: "There's 30 teams in the NBA, and I really, truly believe that the current CBA and the way the league is set up is that any team at any time can win a championship, and that’s what you really want as a commissioner. You want everybody to have that opportunity. But I think even with an even playing field, there’s something about playing for Lakers fans, Laker nation -- no CBA can make that equal. We have the greatest fans, and they can’t take those away from us with the CBA. As long as they continue to do that, I think the Lakers will have an edge. Pulling from all our strengths and all our assets, which includes former players like Magic Johnson, like Kobe Bryant -- those are our strengths."
Walton on growing up a Celtics fan: "I was a die-hard Celtics fan. I had the poster of Magic and Larry standing back to back with the Converse on in my room. At our house, we weren’t allowed to call them the Lakers. We had to call them the Fakers. We weren’t allowed to say that word around Celtics players. But as soon as I got drafted to L.A. and I was sitting in the living room with my dad on draft night and they called me, we both instantly turned into Lakers. The older you get, you really get an appreciation for how amazing that Showtime team was, and the Celtics team, really. Those were two of the two greatest teams ever assembled, and it happened to be in an era when they battled East Coast vs. West Coast year after year. Such a special opportunity for someone who loves basketball as much as I do to grow up in an environment like that."
Johnson on Bill Walton: "We were trying to sign Bill at the same time the Celtics were trying to sign Bill. We thought that he could really help us win the championship, and he decided to go with that other team. But one thing I always admired about Bill, he’s probably one of the smartest players that’s ever played."
Luke Walton on the best/worst traits he inherited from his father: "The best is work ethic and finding what you’re passionate about in life. He was incredible as a basketball guy and a dad. A lot of people would assume he pushed it on us as kids, but he was so supportive to me and my three brothers about finding what you're passionate about in life, whether that’s basketball or music or whatever it is -- follow your dreams with that. The fact that he supported each of us to do what we loved doing and then taught us that hard work is the only way to get there is what I really valued, and he passed down to us. And then the bad I got from him was his body. My ankles and my back and my knees hurt every day."
Johnson on what it was like being involved with trade talks with his old rival, Pacers GM Bird: "We only talked for about two or three minutes about the possibility of a trade, but it was more geared toward later on, not at that moment. It was just saying "Hi, I’m here and we’re looking forward to talking to you later on this summer."
Johnson on today’s NBA game vs. when he played: "First of all, when I played, it was inside-out, so you pound the ball inside to probably the most dominant player we’ve ever seen in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and then we pounded it to James Worthy, one of the greatest small forwards that’s ever played. And then if [those] two were busy or didn’t want to shoot, then I would go into the post and do my thing. So it was definitely driven by banging the ball down inside. Now, it’s the 3-point line. All the emphasis, even on the fast break -- we’re seeing a lot of teams that would much rather shoot the three than shoot the two. What we’re trying to do, because it’s not just me, I want to make sure that Luke is involved because he has to coach these guys and also what type of offense he’s going to run, those guys have to fit into that offense. What we’re trying to do is make sure that guys want to win. They love to compete and they’re going to love being a Laker. We want guys who want to play for the Lakers, want to play in this town, understand what it means to play for the Laker organization."
Johnson on working with Walton: "It’s been easy. It’s been really easy. This man is the coach of the Lakers. I’m not the coach. He’s the coach. I sit back. I just watch the game, I watch practice. His job is to coach. I may come to him and say, 'So and so may need to work on this.' Like I’ve done a couple times. But that’s up to him after that ... But I would never interfere with him and the players that he’s coaching."
Luke Walton on working with Johnson: "What you’ve got to remember is I played with Kobe for eight and a half years." [Luke noted that he hasn’t been "yelled" at once since Johnson came aboard.]
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne contributed to this report
Lakers' Magic Johnson, Luke Walton evaluating young roster with future in mind: The balcony that oversees the practice court gave Magic Johnson a clear view of the players below it. The setting seemed fitting since Johnson’s presence as the president of basketball operations has cast a looming shadow over the organization. "It’s nice to look up there and see the Magic Man staring down," Lakers coach Luke Walton said, grinning. -- The Orange County Register
Brandon Ingram steps up, and Lakers think they'll see more progress from the rookie: For one half of a game Sunday afternoon, the Lakers saw signs of what they want to see more often from their first-round pick, Brandon Ingram. They saw an aggression with which Ingram doesn’t always play. -- Los Angeles Times
LaVar Ball's royal vision: He sees his son Lonzo in Lakers purple and gold: If you have ever heard or read LaVar Ball say something about his sons, odds are that you rolled your eyes or shook your head. If you’re of a light-hearted temperament, maybe you chuckled. The latest public declaration of Southern California’s most famous basketball father, however, should have elicited another kind of response. Hope -- specifically, hope that he’s right. He envisions his oldest son, UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball, playing for the Lakers next season. -- Los Angeles Times
League sources told ESPN that Calderon is planning to sign with the Golden State Warriors provided he clears waivers Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET.
Sources say Bogut, meanwhile, will speak to officials from the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics before choosing his next team. He also is scheduled to clear waivers Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET.
ESPN reported Sunday that the Cavaliers are the favorites to land Bogut after signing the Australian big man's former Dallas Mavericks teammate Deron Williams on Monday. Two Mavericks sources told ESPN's Tim MacMahon that they expect Bogut to choose Cleveland after he talks to interested teams.
Because both Calderon and Bogut were waived before Wednesday, they retain playoff eligibility with their next team.
Also waived Monday were New York Knicks
Lakers' Jose Calderon faces uncertain future: While Jose Calderon allows his agent to worry about working out a buyout of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, Calderon is just operating as he normally would. “Here it was great,” Calderon said. -- Los Angeles Times
Angry Luke Walton laments Lakers' lack of heart in dismal defeat: San Antonio’s sustained consistency, depth and Hall-of-Fame caliber coaching once provided the Lakers a gauge on their playoff readiness. With the Lakers far removed from that picture in recent seasons, the Spurs have since offered clarity on the gap between both franchises. -- The Orange County Register
Can Lakers model Spurs in front-office synergy?: The Spurs’ decades-long consistency through five NBA championships and 19 consecutive playoff appearances left Lakers coach Luke Walton shaking his head. “It’s insane,” Walton said. -- The Orange County Register
LOS ANGELES -- The San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers compared franchises Sunday morning at Staples Center, and the gap makes the Grand Canyon seem like a ditch. Big market versus small. Flashy versus fundamental. Star-driven versus team-first. Extreme dysfunction versus unshakable consistency. The list could go on for two foes once embroiled in a fierce Western Conference rivalry, but these differences seemed especially stark given what unfolded over the past week.
While the Spurs epitomize managerial stability, togetherness and focus -- which drive their well-oiled machine that has hummed along with surgical efficiency for decades -- the Lakers and their worst-ever struggles represent what happens when too many in power pull in opposite directions for far too long: disaster.
But if the Lakers have for years been a rudderless ship rocking aimlessly in the sea, then they now have hope that their recent in-house overhaul will provide some semblance of direction. Just how much direction won't be known for some time. For now, with longtime executives Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak both sent packing, Magic Johnson is the Lakers' president of basketball operations, and he took in Sunday's affair -- his first Lakers' home game in his new post -- from a Staples Center suite, and he saw the Spurs throttle the Lakers 119-98.
Before the game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich -- who, like Johnson, is a five-time champion -- weighed in on the Lakers' newest frontman. But Popovich, like many, isn't sure how the former on-the-court legend (and front-office rookie) will help the Lakers emerge from rebuilding status.
"Like everyone else, I would assume, Magic's always been somewhat of an idol in the sense of what he accomplished, what he's done not just on the court but what he did after the court, business-wise," Popovich said. "Hopefully, that will transfer. Hopefully, he will be very successful. I'm one of those people who believes that having really good teams in big cities is important for the league. Sure, we all want to win. But the bigger picture is when big cities have good teams, it's good for everybody."
A rising tide floats all boats, as the trope goes, but the Spurs are an ideal example that market size matters less and less, given how the digital age has reshaped the landscape, allowing players to build massive global brands anywhere. Even so, Popovich acknowledged that certain cities still carry allure -- and Los Angeles arguably tops that list.
"We've been successful, I guess," Popovich said. "That's why some people have come. But you can't deny that markets like New York and Chicago, the big cities, are attractive no matter. No sense in trying to hide that. We've been here [in Los Angeles] four or five nights, and I've had lunches and dinners and wine every day until I can't wait to get out of here. I need to go dry out. No food and alcohol for a while. I just hope half the team shows up today. ‘Are we gonna practice tomorrow?' I'm like, ‘Screw practice. We've got to go to lunch.' It's an attractive place."
But all that good food, wine, sunshine, history, celebrity connections and business opportunities alone aren't enough to draw in top-tier free agents. The Lakers have painfully learned that lesson time and again the past four summers -- including when LaMarcus Aldridge turned them down to join the Spurs in large part because the Lakers had no answers about how to improve their abysmal on-court product.
There were also uncomfortable questions lingering about the Lakers' management structure, especially because Jim Buss announced in 2014 that he would step down in three years if the team wasn't contending by then. If he went, then Kupchak -- the logic went -- was probably out the door too. And then who was in charge? Would Phil Jackson rejoin the organization? Too much uncertainty clouded the future.
Far on the spectrum's other end, Popovich hasn't faced many of these issues, so when he was asked how front-office consistency has impacted his job, he responded, "Easier, better than chaos and conflict, right? [General manager] R.C. [Buford] and I have been together for a long time. So, obviously, that continuity helped us make decisions quickly without animosity and that sort of thing."
He continued, "Well, I've always thought it starts with ownership. I think owners who let people do their jobs end up being more successful in our business. And obviously, if someone has made a lot of bucks doing something else, the pitfall is always to think that you can do that no matter what business you might be in, and some organizations get into trouble because of that. We haven't had that problem.
"So ownership has allowed us to just run the program and keep them informed as we should. After that piece of the puzzle is in place, then it becomes a synergy between management, coaches and players. At that point, it's about people. It's about people that have hopefully gotten over themselves, that are comfortable in their own skins and know how to maturely and objectively agree and disagree. That's totally dependent on people."
The circumstances that Popovich described were once in place for the Lakers, but since their patriarch owner Dr. Jerry Buss died in 2013, everything has seemingly fallen apart -- and the organization continues to operate more like a soap opera than a functional franchise, as The New York Times perfectly illustrated Saturday in the opening paragraphs of a story summarizing last week's coup:
So, the president of the Lakers -- the one who once posed in Playboy and dated the head coach -- created a stir last week by firing her brother, who had helped prepare for his job as the head of basketball operations by training horses.
To replace him, she hired the franchise icon with the incandescent smile whose first day on the job last Tuesday represented the start of his experience as a basketball executive. His first move was to hire a general manager whose primary qualification seems to be that he was the agent of another Lakers icon, the one with the killer scowl.
These novices will be counting on the expertise of the son of the Lakers' éminence grise, who stormed off years ago when he clashed with the head coach, the one who dated the owner's daughter.
"I think we're really fortunate because R.C. and I already had a little of history together from college days, and from day one, ownership really was a hands-off sort of situation," he said. "Compared to a lot of places, we were very, very fortunate."
But the Spurs aren't immortal. One day, they could start losing, which could threaten the front-office synergy they value so much.
"Certainly, that's human nature, especially in a pretty volatile business," Popovich said. "Instant gratification seems to be a factor that runs things the most, as far as whether you can have continuity or not, how long you're gonna wait. And every situation is different. Some programs have money problems, others have talent problems, coaching problems, GM problems. We don't know. Everybody's different in every situation, and it takes time to get all that straight."
The Lakers and their fans might view themselves as different, as exceptional, and in some ways, that is true. But it's just as true that believing those viewpoints helped contribute to their fall. While Johnson observed Sunday's game from a suite, his former teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar watched along the sideline. During a break in the game, he reflected on his former team's situation with measured language that didn't make the Lakers seem exceptional at all.
The Lakers are driven by youth, but, Abdul-Jabbar said, "We have to start somewhere."
The Lakers want a quick fix and, Abdul-Jabbar said, "I'm sure all the die-hard fans are tired of waiting, but a lot of what happens in this league is cyclical."
He noted that Johnson will have to learn plenty on the fly and hoped for his success, but Abdul-Jabbar didn't guarantee that everything would work out -- because it's too hard to say.
While Abdul-Jabbar spoke, the Spurs enjoyed a double-digit lead after days of enjoying Los Angeles and all its spoils. The Lakers are among many envious of the Spurs, wishing they could mimic them in some ways if not all. But if there's anything the Lakers should hope to steal, it's the Spurs' novel idea that their success stems from higher-ups who are willing to work together rather than apart. Much like a team.
LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles' first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise's basketball operations.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.
Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.
Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers' dismal season still hasn't changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.
Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season.
"All I said was that my boy is going to play for the Lakers, and I'm going to speak it into existence," LaVar Ball told ESPN on Saturday night. "I want him to be a Laker, but I wasn't saying he's only going to play for the Lakers."
Earlier Saturday, Ball told KCUB Sports Radio 1290 in Tucson that he wants Lonzo to play for Jeanie Buss' franchise so much that he would discourage other teams from picking his son in this summer's NBA draft.
"I want him to be a Laker," Ball told KCUB. "He's gonna be the first one that's homegrown, and trust me, he'll do the same thing he's doing at UCLA."
In response to a question about the Lakers' hypothetically securing the third pick in the draft, the elder Ball told the radio station that he would tell the top two squads to avoid drafting his son.
Ball hedged that statement when speaking to ESPN.
"I'm not trying to say he won't play for a different team," he said. "But I'd like him to play for the Lakers because it's home, and I'd love him to learn from Magic [Johnson]. He's the best guard ever to me, and nobody better for Lonzo to learn from than Magic Johnson."
Johnson, the Lakers' new president of basketball operations, sat in the front row at Pauley Pavilion and watched Lonzo Ball lead UCLA to a come-from-behind win over Oregon on Feb. 9.
When asked about his father's statement, Lonzo Ball said, "All I do is go out and play basketball, man."
Ball finished with 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals in his team's 77-72 win at Arizona
Sources told ESPN.com that Calderon has the Warriors at the top of his list provided he can negotiate his release from the Lakers by Wednesday, which is the last day this season that players can be released and retain playoff eligibility for their next team.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced after Saturday night's 112-95 victory over Brooklyn that guard Briante Weber would not be re-signed for the rest of the season after completing his second 10-day contract. Kerr also acknowledged that Golden State was poised to sign a veteran guard to take that roster spot.
ESPN first reported earlier Saturday that Calderon had launched into buyout negotiations with the Lakers, with Golden State and Houston quickly emerging as interested suitors.
Deron Williams was released by the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, cleared waivers on Saturday and quickly came to terms on a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers that, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin, will be made official Monday.
Calderon and former Warriors center Andrew Bogut