On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers had to watch as their future was to be decided by ping-pong balls and a random combination of numbers.
The new regime was front and center, first-time general manager Rob Pelinka shut in the drawing room and first-time president of basketball operations Magic Johnson waiting with baited breath as pick-after-pick was revealed.
After 11 picks were announced, relief shone through for Johnson — if the million-dollar smile didn’t give it away, the shimmy and bop in his chair did.
In just one night Magic revealed what he wants to bring back to his beloved Lakers franchise: charisma.
Johnson saw this outcome from miles away. He told Luke Walton at the end of the season that Los Angeles would keep its pick. In the lead up to the lottery his tone changed slightly, but for someone that comes off as sincere as Magic does, it never felt right when he spoke about the team being OK if it ended up losing the pick this year.
Now that scenario just becomes a “what if?”
Instead, Magic in half a season has won over Hollywood once more. He brought the Lakers back from the doldrums that Kobe Bryant’s retirement left them in. (If the Clippers were anything resembling a competent franchise, they could’ve won over the Los Angeles fan base).
Ever since the final horn of the 2016-17 season, it has been Lonzo Ball or Buss(t) for the Lakers. Equipped with the No. 2 overall pick, it looks like that dream is coming into fruition.
TIME TO BELIEVE?
Without making a single move, Johnson comes out of this golden, like the statue that bears his resemblance outside of the Staples Center. Whereas it seemed like Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss couldn’t do anything right, Johnson seems to have the magic touch for the Lakers.
However, one can only operate on past success for so long — ask Phil Jackson how those 11 rings are helping him in New York — and there’s still work to be done for this team.
The next big test for Johnson will come during the 2017 NBA Draft, but it won’t be what he decides to do at No. 2 (in a two-person draft the Lakers will walk away with an elite talent with their first first-round pick). It will be the selection the team makes at No. 28 that reveals what Magic and Pelinka have up their sleeves.
After the first 10 picks the players selected 11-40 are all equally flawed. It’s going to be a real crapshoot. Names will come off the board earlier than projected and prospects once considered lottery locks will drop into the 20s.
Los Angeles could get a great return on investment if it can find the right prospect with its second first-rounder. Whatever direction the Lakers go there –I suggest they look heavily at Oregon’s Jordan Bell or snatch up Duke’s Harry Giles, if he slips that far — will show us what the future of this team will hold.
Having that pick in hand allows them to be more aggressive with their assets. Paul George has made it known he wants to don the purple and gold. Will Magic rest on his laurels in hope that the Lakers can reel in George as their big fish free agent? Or will the team look to move some of its accrued young talent to ensure that it can get George in town ASAP? George will be spending the summer in Canvas City with Black Mamba searching for his “Musecage.”
Things have looked bleak for long enough that the rare bright spot that was Tuesday has built the legend of Magic to even higher levels in La-La Land.
As the Lakers continue to stroll down their yellow brick road, only one question remains: Do you believe in Magic? I do.