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Rumor: Magic Johnson needs more from Luke Walton

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Magic has a competitive fury that has propelled his success on and off the court. Is his impatient thirst for a Lakers’ renaissance during the era of the Golden Empire going to destroy former Warriors’ hero Luke Walton’s coaching dreams?

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Did you know Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s first game after his HIV diagnosis-related retirement was January 30th, 1996 against the Latrell Sprewell-era Golden State Warriors?

I remembered reading about it in the Oakland Tribune as a kid, but didn’t have enough basketball knowledge at the time to realize how momentous a moment that was in both NBA and Lakers lore. A legend many had considered the greatest to ever play fought back from a seemingly insurmountable career-ending disease to come kick the Warriors ass.

That YouTube clip mesmerized me. Johnson’s bulky frame lopes around the court like a nimble bear, wheeling-and-dealing with a whimsy confidence and crafty guile. Even though he was nowhere near his full-strength prime, his competitive juices pumped with a Game 7 intensity. He was driven to dominate, no matter the circumstantial obstacle.


Magic Johnson’s greatness is known throughout the basketball universe. My very own parents joined the rest of Earth to admire and cheer the way he dominated the 1980’s golden era of basketball. So glorified are his exploits in sports history, that I didn’t even know his real name was “Earvin” until I was nine years old. “Magic” was the only name of his I knew, and after opening a sports almanac in an East Oakland library and viewing his unreal stats, I believed the name fit without question.

Even after retirement, his business acumen and flashing smile continue to encourage and excite millions. I’m particularly interested in his philanthropy, where he is a man of compassion, personally re-energizing underprivileged inner city communities with his wealth and spirit.

That’s why the NBA applauded when a concerned Magic returned back to the bombed-out rubble of the once mighty Los Angeles Lakers’ dynasties to join with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, former agent of Kobe Bryant-turned-general manager Rob Pelinka, and fellow business entrepreneur LaVar Ball.

Magic was elevated to President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, and let everyone know he was hellbent on bringing Showtime back. No one can ever challenge his zeal to challenge the world champion Warriors and bring them to their knees in the name of the Purple and Gold.


Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson & Rob Pelinka Los Angeles Lakers Media Availability Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

I believe no one is more deeply embedded than he into the Lakers’ potential return to glory. Per Shaun Powell for an NBA.com piece from last February entitled, “Showtime: Magic Johnson on mission to take Los Angeles Lakers back to pinnacle of success”:

And so, Magic is on an ambitious mission to create stars and find them, which is something the Lakers have always done in their rich history. There is perhaps no NBA franchise that reflects the city it represents more than the Lakers do.

...the Lakers couldn’t even make the playoffs anymore. The aura vaporized and the pain felt by those with a connection to the franchise was eye-gouging.

“It was hard for me to sit back and see what was going on, the team losing and doing so without a clear vision,” Johnson said recently.

Tough love was expressed through social media, where Magic was almost Donald Trump-like on Twitter, taking shots at players, coaches and especially The Brother of Jeanie (Jim Buss), who was responsible for the fall.

Last summer, Magic signed the guy who broke his hand failing to protect his hometown of Ohio from the repeated blows of the Warriors’ giant golden brooms. Yes, Magic convinced the one-and-only LeBron James to sign a four-year deal of allegiance, where he must have salivated after securing the services of two alleged “Magic clones” in the King and Lonzo Ball.

He even added a slew of playoff tested veterans to a young, athletic core; the NBA was impressed. No longer would the Lakers go down like a plate of hot BBQ at a Madea family reunion. Despite a clearly alarming famine of outside shooters on the roster, they would fight and defend with vigor, run with passion, and maybe even sneak up on somebody in the playoffs.


Indiana Pacers v Golden State Warriors
Lakers head coach Luke Walton back in happier times when he was an assistant to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Initially, Magic preached patience. Per the Washington Post, back in September he was quoted, “We said don’t worry about if we get out to a bad start. We have seen that with LeBron going to Miami, and we have seen that when he came back to Cleveland. He is going to struggle because there are so many new moving parts. But eventually we are going to get it, and we are going to be a really good team.”

So...how is it just the first week of November and already reports are coming out from Woj that he has young head coach and former Warriors hero Luke Walton on the hot seat after a 3-5 start?

Per Woj’s report: “In a meeting on Tuesday, following a winless two-game trip, Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson admonished coach Luke Walton for the team’s sluggish start to the season, league sources told ESPN.

Johnson’s cutting appraisal elevated an already acute awareness within the Lakers coaching staff that there are intense and immediate pressures on Walton to deliver the franchise a winner in short order.

DAMN. I guess that’s just Magic’s unquestionable competitive zeal. But, does he really think this roster is better than the sum of its parts? LeBron James needs SHOOTERS to complement him. When career brick men Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson are in the lineup, the Lakers have some of the least spacing around James that he’s ever had in his career. As Duby Dub Dubs told me in private, the word is out on how to stop the Lakers: PACK THE PAINT.

Dub Nation remembers what Walton coaching was like when he had an actual squad of people who could make three-pointers. He won his first 24 games straight filling in as interim coach for a hurting Steve Kerr, and finished 34-9 overall with the Harrison Barnes/Festus Ezeli-era Golden State Warriors.

There’s a soft spot in our heart for the guy who was like the cool substitute teacher who lets the students make paper airplanes and listen to music as long as they get the group work done. He’s the one who gave the Warriors the in-game green-light to chase win streaks and humiliate opponents during the 73-win regular season of 2016.

Is Magic really putting him on blast after a tough opening month filled with close losses, SpitGate, and a hodgepodge roster finding chemistry around an aging James?


Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns
LeBron allegedly has Walton’s back, but does Magic?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

According to Woj’s report, James isn’t even beefing with Coach Luke, probably because he understands this roster is incomplete in today’s NBA without more spacing. I mean, I’m no big, fancy downtown psychologist, but I’m pretty sure LeBron James knows what a title contender looks like. He’s been on the business end of the numbers “3-1” over the last four years; I’m fairly certain he knows the Lakers ain’t stopping the Warriors anytime soon.

Besides, who are you gonna replace Coach Luke with anyway?

GASP!

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if Magic’s sending a message to James through his “chiding” of Coach Luke. What if the greatest point guard ever and a master strategist, once known as a coach-killer, is showing King James who the king of using dangerously subtle communication is? What if Magic believes the Lakers have everything they need to win...now?

Does Magic share the same, smoldering, psychopathic, competitive fury as the likes of Michael Jordan and MJ’s venomous clone, Kobe Bryant? We saw how Kobe was glaring like Lex Luthor at LeBron James the other night at Staples.

Those Lakers got a huge win against Portland last night. LeBron made sure to give the coaching staff ample credit, telling ESPN, ““Listen, coaching staff put us in a position to win, and it’s up to us to go up and execute.”

They better keep executing or else the executioner may be coming for Luke Walton’s head. If that’s the case, Coach Luke may not get to coach the marquee Christmas Day matchup in Oracle Arena. You NEVER know in the NBA.

Especially when the guy calling the shots for the Lakers is a legend who has made a hall-of-fame career about pursuing victory above all things.

I’d hate to add our guy Luke’s name to the Warriors’ “Path of Destruction” so soon.