Magic Johnson no longer is a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, where he crafted one of the all-time great careers. But the new Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner remains connected to the NBA team, and he does not like what he has seen of the team in general and the use of all-star big man Paul Gasol in particular.
After a press conference announcing the Dodgers signing of pitcher Zack Grienke, Johnson talked Lakers to the gathered media. And talked . . . and talked.
“I don’t understand it,” Johnson said. “The man (Gasol) is an all-star. He’s seven feet tall for real. The guy can play basketball. He’s one of the smartest players in the league. That’s why we got Zack (Grienke). He’s one of the smartest players in baseball. He watches film. He’s serious about his craft. That’s what we wanted. He can really help the young players.”
In new coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, Gasol, who has missed the last three games resting sore knees, often finds himself floating on the perimeter, which limits his game, Johnson said.
“When Gasol was on that (low) block, he averaged 18 points, he shot 53 percent from the field and he still is the best passing big man in the game,” Johnson said. “But you have him at the free-throw line? That makes no sense. That’s not his game.”
What is his game, Magic?
“His game is to catch it on the low block, face his man, one dribble left or right,” Johnson said. “He’s got great moves. But now all the blame is on his shoulders, like he’s not performing well? He can’t take that. That’s not who he is.
“They’ve got to put him in a winning situation, because once Gasol starts to play well, I think the team will start to play well. Then you come in with Steve Nash. But you’ve got to get Gasol going. Gasol, to me, is the key to this whole thing. If you continue to have him at the 3-point line, he’s not going to perform well.”
Johnson’s frustration points directly to D’Antoni, who has not crafted his system around his talent.
“I’ve gotta adjust my system a little bit if I’m the coach. That’s all,” Johnson said. “His system doesn’t fit the talent that the Lakers have. You can’t run with this team. Who are the runners? You’ve got one guy who can get up and down the court and that’s Kobe (Bryant).
“What he needs to do is say, ‘Look, I have a certain philosophy but I don’t have the type of players to play that scheme and that system. But I do have two of the best seven-footers in the game.’
“It’s a long season. We can’t count out coach D’Antoni or the Lakers. We want to see signs that this thing is turning around. He’s waiting for Steve Nash to return. We’ll wait and see what happens when Steve Nash returns. We’re all spoiled. I’m the first to admit that I’m spoiled with the success of the Lakers. You sit there and you say, ‘Man, this can’t happen to our Lakers.’ “