One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA over the past couple of years has been the low-key ongoing beef between Magic Johnson and LeBron James.
At the root of the bad blood is Johnson’s decision to depart from the Los Angeles Lakers a mere year after recruiting James to town.
That hasty decision to exit when the going got tough left a sour taste in James’ mouth that has lingered to this very day.
A few months ago, ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst detailed precisely where things fell apart between Johnson and James.
“I also think it’s interesting to point out that I’m not so sure that LeBron and Magic are on the greatest of terms right now,” Windhorst said.
“LeBron was very upset that Magic pulled the ripcord after the first year and didn’t even tell him, just did it. “There’s scar tissue there, and earlier this year, when Magic criticized the Lakers, and rightly so — it wasn’t hard to criticize the Lakers — and LeBron was asked about it, LeBron declined to talk about it.”
This week, a new chapter in their ongoing cold war was written when Johnson appeared on ESPN and essentially blamed James for the Lakers’ struggles this year. Namely, because of his documented insistence that the front office pursue Russell Westbrook over DeMar DeRozan.
“When I think about it, the blame that he has to take is the fact that DeRozan ended up in Chicago and not with the Lakers,” Johnson said.
“Because DeRozan wanted to play for the Lakers… I got the call from his agent, saying, ‘Hey, he wants to come home’. And DeRozan could have been a Laker instead of a Bull. But when Russell and LeBron and them started talking, that’s when they nixed that deal and went with Westbrook.”
DeRozan, of course, went on to have an MVP campaign with the Bulls. He has since been very open about the shady way the Lakers passed on him over the summer.
“And the thing with DeRozan is, you had the chance to keep the role players,” Johnson continued. “ [Alex] Caruso, KCP, all those guys who are our best defenders, they left. And that’s why we were a bad defensive team. But if you sign DeRozan, you only trade Kuzma for Buddy Hield, we would be playing in the Western Conference Finals.”
The Lakers could have been great this year with just a few smarter personnel moves, but instead they’ll go down as one of the most disappointing incarnations of the team in franchise history.
That failure will have lasting ramifications.
James seems to already be making big plans for his post-Lakers future. The rumors surrounding a potential Anthony Davis trade are intensifying. And Lakers owner Jeanie Buss is sending a lot of somewhat mixed messages on what’s set to come.
The video speaks for itself. https://t.co/Cs04hI4acO
— Game 7 (@game7__) April 5, 2022
This will be an interesting summer for the Lakers. Either they’ll quickly figure out a way to right the ship and course correct, or their downward spiral will reach new depths in 2022-23.
Which path will they ultimately take? Time will tell.