With a 24-4 record, the Lakers sit atop the Western Conference by a comfortable margin and are tied for the NBA’s best record. This comes just months after Magic Johnson shocked them by resigning as president of basketball operations at the end of the 2018-19 season.
When Johnson resigned, the Lakers were coming off a season in which poor roster construction, failed trade negotiations, and injuries plagued a James-led team. It put the Lakers at 37-45, which ultimately landed them the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Using multiple draft picks and a collection of young players, general manager Rob Pelinka and the Lakers were able to trade for Anthony Davis and put together a great roster around the All-Star tandem.
Despite all of this happening after Johnson’s departure, he still feels he deserves some credit for the success this team has had in the early going, according to Bill Plaschke of Los Angeles Times:
”This team would not be in the position it’s in without me,” he says.
To elaborate, Johnson said that everything the Lakers did after he left was a result of the plan he put in place after helping to land James in 2018 NBA free agency:
”This was my strategy, this is what I thought we’d be in three years,” he says. “I knew we were on the right track. Everybody wanted to do it their way, but I’m good with who I am. … I think people respect what I’ve done for the team.”
While it’s possibly true that without Johnson James never would have come to the Lakers, it’s impossible to know that with certainty. What is known is that the roster put together by Pelinka and his team is far superior to the one Johnson put together and it goes way beyond just the addition of Davis.
In 2018, Johnson made minimal effort to surround James with shooting, something that has been the blueprint from James-led teams for over a decade. Pelinka remedied that by signing Danny Green, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley, and Quinn Cook while retaining Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma in the trade.
Johnson also was extremely loud and brash during February’s trade negotiations, ruining any chance the Lakers had at getting Davis last season. With Pelinka at the helm, trade talks were handled with more poise and less leaks, and a deal was done before the draft even came around.
Johnson may be able to take some credit but make no mistake, it was Pelinka, head coach Frank Vogel, and the current Lakers front office that made this roster as good as it is.