Magic Johnson Right About Listless Lakers as LA Searches for Team Identity

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

November 16, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA;    NBA players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Irvin
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Surprising as it is, for once, I agree with Magic Johnson.

The former Los Angeles Lakers star and NBA legend is not happy about the dismal start to the season his team has had. And neither am I. Nor is anyone who appreciates the game of basketball.

Instead, Johnson is disgusted with the effort Los Angeles has been putting forth, sentiments he expressed to's Joe McDonnell:

Our transition defense is terrible, and every team is running (over) the Lakers right now because they know they're faster, quicker and more athletic than the Lakers. So, if it takes us to slow the game down, that's what we should do. You know what we're doing — we're speeding it up, putting ourselves in a tougher position. When we're taking (and missing) long 3-point shots, which gives the opposition an opportunity to fast break more.

So, we have to figure out what's a good shot and what's a bad shot. Also, do we really want to run with everybody when we really don't have runners? That's the key.

Most would consider Johnson's rant an extension of his belief that the Lakers made the wrong decision by hiring Mike D'Antoni in favor of Phil Jackson, or anyone else, for that matter.

But his rage here isn't specifically directed at D'Antoni. It's aimed at the seemingly languished Lakers' failure to understand what it takes to win.

For all his raving about defense, he goes on to mention that Los Angeles needs to understand what its up against:

The Lakers better understand this: Every team in the league is liking what's happening to the Lakers. We've always had the upper hand on everybody. Now they're coming and saying, 'Wait a minute, we can beat the Lakers now.' We’ve got to rise up to that challenge, and right now we're not.

As Johnson notes, right now, Los Angeles doesn't fully comprehend how to win, what it's going to take to keep its ship from submerging beneath the depths of oblivion.

D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant both know that the Lakers are giving up the second-most points in transition per game (16.2), yet they both continue to rest the fate of this team on Steve Nash's return.

And that's not the solution. Nash isn't going to fix the Lakers transition defense or help protect the rim. He cannot inspire Kobe and Dwight Howard to play better defense. No one but themselves can. 

Some are quick to point a gun at Los Angeles' new head coach, but even the trigger-happy Johnson admitted he wants to "give him a shot."


Because this apathetic display of basketball isn't on D'Antoni. Not completely anyway. He spent a good few minutes after Los Angeles' loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers actually emphasizing defense.

So this doesn't come down to him. He understands the stigma that surrounds his system, the narrative that claims he doesn't preach defense. He's not about to ignore it and subsequently prove his doubters right. No one would.

This comes down to effort, down to will. Los Angeles, Howard included, isn't getting back on defense. The team is not protecting the rim. And tempers have soared on the court as a result.

That can't happen. That's not "Laker basketball."

Los Angeles needs to regroup. It needs to understand that, as a collective, it must both score and defend. Bryant shouldn't be the only one putting losses on him. Everyone should be jumping at the opportunity to be held accountable.

Right now, there's no denying that the Lakers are still searching for an identity. They've performed well on the offensive end, but both Pau Gasol and Howard have still struggled without Nash. 

And it's the same story on defense, only worse. Everyone is struggling, everyone is blowing rotations and allowing unimpeded paths to the basket. Everyone is operating under a lethargic demeanor.

Until that's corrected, the Lakers aren't going to win; they're not going to be able to salvage the remainder of their 2012-13 crusade if they fail to comprehend that it takes a two-way effort to win games to contend for a title.

Magic Johnson understands this, I understand this and you understand this. It takes but one look at the Lakers' poignant defensive effort to realize that, noD, they still don't.

And it takes but one cursory glance at their deplorable record to know that nothing is going to change until they do.


All stats in this article are accurate as of December 11, 2012.