LOS ANGELES Its been said that you expect more from the ones that you loveand theres no doubt that Magic Johnson loves the Lakers.
He played for them, coached them and was a team vice president and part owner until he sold his shares in order to partner up with the new Dodger ownership group.
And his expectations for the Lakers are equalor even higherthan that of the most rabid Laker fans.
Ever since the firing of Mike Brown and subsequent hiring of new coach Mike DAntoni, Johnson has made no secret of the fact that he thinks the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak made a bad hire and should have brought back Phil Jackson to run the team.
Monday afternoon at Dodger Stadium following a news conference to introduce the newest Dodger, Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin, he took his frustrations to an entirely new level. He blasted the team he says he loves, and gave it very little chance to turn around a most-disappointing season so far in 2012-13.
We have got to get back to playing solid defense, he said at the beginning of his smiling tirade about all things Lakers. That will make our offense go. Kobe Bryant is not going to ever have trouble scoring. Pau Gasolif we put him in the right positionwont have trouble scoring. Dwight Howard can score. So, we can score. But we cant outscore everybody. You have to play defense first. Then you have to go down to the offensive end and score.
Our transition defense is terrible, and every team is running over the Lakers right now because they know theyre faster, quicker and more athletic than the Lakers. So, if it takes us to slow the game down, thats what we should do. You know what were doing - were speeding it up, putting ourselves in a tougher position. When were taking and missing long three-point shots, which gives the opposition an opportunity to fast break more.
So, we have to figure out whats a good shot and whats a bad shot. Also, do we really want to run with everybody when we really dont have runners? Thats the key."
The struggling Lakers are just 9-12 on the season, tied with the Trailblazers with the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference.
I love the Lakers so much and I die with every single game they lose. Im frustrated because I love them so much. And I dont like where we are. I watch the faces, and its almost like the players dont know what theyre doing or how to do it.
The Lakers better understand this: Every team in the league is liking what happening to the Lakers. Weve always had the upper hand on everybody. Now theyre coming and saying wait a minute, we can beat the Lakers now. Weve got to rise up to that challenge and right now were not.
Johnson continued during an interview following the Dodgers' press conference:
JOE MCDONNELLExplain why youve been so critical of Laker management this season.
EARVIN JOHNSONGod bless him, Mike Brown is a good guy and a good coach. I think hell be good for somebody else. His coaching days are not over. But hes just the wrong guy for this team. OK, so we made that mistake. But then you turn around and fire him so fastwow. OK. Then you reach out to Phil Jackson; they shouldnt have even talked to Phil if they werent going to do it for real. (They) got all of us excited. I was excited; L.A. was excited; the whole country was excited that Phil might come back maybe. And then you turn aroundwithout even negotiating; you didnt know what he really wanted. Then you hire Mike DAntoni, a coach who wants to run. But you dont have a running team. Does that make sense? It doesnt make sense to me, but hey, Im going to give him a shot. Im hopeful that it will work out because I love the Lakers. But I still feel that if he doesnt change his system to fit the talent that he has, its not gonna work. (Jim Buss) has to rely on Mitch Kupchaks basketball knowledge. Look, Dr. Jerry Buss let Jerry West make basketball decisions. West just said Dr. Buss, heres who I want to trade and these are the reasons that I want to trade him.' Dr. Buss would tell him to go ahead and make the move if it was going to help our team. Jim wants to make the move and then tell Mitch to do it. No. (He) doesnt have that kind of basketball expertise. Youve got to let Mitch Kupchak make those decisions. Thats what made the Lakers so great. We had Jerry Westthe greatest basketball executive of our timemaking the basketball decisions. Look at Miami and whats happening with the Heat. Why are they so great? Because Pat Riley is making basketball decisions. Now hes the best basketball executive in the game today. And they all came from the Lakers.
JMIs Mike DAntoni the wrong coach for this team?
EJThe system is wrong for this team. And if it doesnt change, hell be the wrong coach for this team. We dont have runnerslook at the roster. Things will change a little bit offensivelyno questionwith Steve Nash back and healthy. But thats not going to help usin terms of playing defense
JMEven Kobenormally great on defenseisnt playing well right now. Why has his defense been so poor lately?
EJWere asking a man whos in his, what, 17th season, to do everything. He scores 30 points, then he needs to play defense, then hes got to be the leader in the locker room. It is tough. I think right now Kobe is a little down. Hes down because theyre not winning and Kobe wants to win. Hes one of those guys like me; you get upset and you're looking around at your teammates for help. Hes playing hard, but you get discouraged. I can understand why Kobes discouraged. He never thought in his wildest dreams that wed be under .500 and almost last in our division. This is not Laker basketball. And I want them to understand that if they want to become the second coming of ShowtimeShowtime played defense. Showtime was committed to the defensive end first, because we knew that if we couldnt stop anybody, we couldnt get into the fast break. Weve got to be better. I dont see the guys happy. Its one thing to lose, but theres no spirit. The other team is uphigh-fivingand look at the Lakers. Theyre just sitting there. Weve got to start having fun again. Its gonna take a while, but weve got to get to feeling good about playing with each other as well.
JMIn 1990, you guys were off to a bad start (2-5) and you went to the new coach, Mike Dunleavy, and told him it wasnt working and to let you run the team on the floor. Is it about time for Kobe to do that?
EJI think if it keeps going the way its goingespecially on this road tripwhich will say a lot about our team, then yeah. Hes going to have to talk to him. I loved Mike Dunleavy, but he was calling all the plays, calling too many plays, and the guys were looking at me and looking at himthey didnt know who was calling the plays. Finally I had to go to him and say Look, weve won five championships with me running the team. I know how to do this. As soon as he let me control the action, we started winning. He had a playbook with all these plays in it; it only takes three or four plays and if we execute them they cant stop you. Once he let me do that, we went all the way to the Finals. We upset everybody. Portland was supposed to be the best team in basketball that year. They had home-court advantage and we beat them (in the Western Conference Finals). This team has timeIm not giving up on the season. We have time to improve. But the guys have to look each other in the eyes and make a commitment to play defense first. Then, whatever happens on the offensive end let it happen. They need a Michael Cooper right now. If we didnt play defense, Michael was coming to tell all of usincluding myself. And he didnt hold back. They need someone like Michael to say Listen, if you dont play defense, Im gonna put my size 14where you dont want it. We had an unwritten rule that we could talk to each other in any sort of way to get us going. If I wasnt playing well, Coop would yell at me to get on the Buck attack. Youre not pushing the ball fast enoughwhats WRONG with you? And wed start playing. Who is that guy now? Derek Fisher used to be that guy, but who is that guy now? And they need him in the worst way right now.