On Monday, former Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson appeared on ESPN’s First Take, where he most notably explained the reasons why he left the team and also alleged that general manager Rob Pelinka betrayed him, as reported previously by CBS Sports. Aside from opening up on those key issues, the Lakers legend also talked about the personnel decisions he made during his time as the team’s president, naming the player he wishes he was able to re-sign during last year’s offseason.
As quoted by Silver Screen and Roll, Johnson took ownership for failing to re-sign Brook Lopez in the summer of 2018, as he let the veteran center sign a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. While Lopez averaged a career-low 12.5 points and added just 4.9 rebounds per game in the 2018-19 regular season, per Basketball-Reference, the 31-year-old big man posted career-highs in three other stats — blocks (2.2 per game), three-point shots made (2.3 per game), and three-point shooting percentage (36.5 percent) — and played for a Bucks team that is now leading the Toronto Raptors, 2-1, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
On the other hand, Johnson “wasn’t willing to accept criticism” for not re-signing Julius Randle, who was also a free agent in the summer of 2018, per Silver Screen and Roll. Randle ultimately chose to sign a two-year, $18 million contract with the New Orleans Pelicans ahead of the 2018-19 season, enjoying a career statistical year but also playing for a team that, much like the Lakers, missed this year’s playoffs.
“The only one we could’ve re-signed was Brook Lopez, and I made a mistake there,” Johnson said on First Take.
“Julius, we couldn’t offer what he got. He wanted two years, we were only offering one. That was a good deal for Julius, and he played well. Him and LeBron [James] wasn’t [sic] going to fit, no way. We needed some space.”
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In addition to his justification of why the Lakers decided against re-signing Randle, Johnson also told First Take host Stephen A. Smith that he doesn’t regret trading promising young center Ivica Zubac to the Los Angeles Clippers for journeyman Mike Muscala prior to the February trade deadline.
“Now, Zubac, let’s go to that. Give me some numbers for him at the Clippers… He didn’t even play during the Golden State [first-round playoff] series,” Johnson told Smith.
Smith, meanwhile, countered Johnson by saying that the Clippers gave Zubac limited playing time against the Warriors because he’s only 23-years-old. As noted by Silver Screen and Roll, Smith was off by one year — Zubac is actually 22 — but that “hardly undermines his point” about Zubac riding the bench in the playoffs because of his youth.
Despite his insistence that the Lakers weren’t wrong to let Randle walk away in free agency and to trade the young Zubac for the experienced, yet ultimately unproductive Muscala, Johnson stressed again toward the end of his First Take appearance that he feels the Lakers could have used someone like Brook Lopez during their troubled 2018-19 campaign — a big man who would have been able to “space the floor and give LeBron more room to operate.”