Magic Johnson: ‘This is not Laker basketball’

LOS ANGELES — It’s been said that you expect more from the ones that you love — and there’s no doubt that Magic Johnson loves the Los Angeles 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 equal — or even higher — than that of the most rabid Lakers fans.

Ever since the firing of Mike Brown and subsequent hiring of new coach Mike D’Antoni, 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, Magic 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 so-far disappointing season 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) Gasol — if we put him in the right position — won’t have trouble scoring. Dwight (Howard) can score. So, we can score. But we can’t 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 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.”

The struggling Lakers are just 9-12 on the season, tied with the Trail Blazers with the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference.

“I love the Lakers so much, and I die with every single game they lose. I’m frustrated because I love them so much. And I don’t like where we are. I watch the faces, and it’s almost like (the players) don’t know what they’re doing or how to do it. 

“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.”

Johnson continued during an interview following the Dodgers’ press conference:

FOXSPORTSWEST.COM — Explain why you’ve been so critical of Lakers management this season.

EARVIN JOHNSON — God bless him, Mike Brown is a good guy and a good coach. I think he’ll be good for somebody else. His coaching days are not over. But he’s just the wrong guy for this team. OK, so we made that mistake. But then you turn around and fire him so fast … wow. OK. Then you reach out to Phil (Jackson); they shouldn’t have even talked to Phil if they weren’t 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 around — without even negotiating; you didn’t know what he really wanted. Then you hire Mike D’Antoni, a coach who wants to run. But you don’t have a running team. Does that make sense? It doesn’t make sense to me, but hey, I’m going to give him a shot. I’m hopeful that it will work out because I love the Lakers. But I still feel that if he doesn’t change his system to fit the talent that he has, it’s not gonna work. (Jim Buss) has to rely on Mitch Kupchak’s basketball knowledge. Look, Dr. Jerry Buss let Jerry West make basketball decisions. West just said, ‘Dr. Buss, here’s 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) doesn’t have that kind of basketball expertise. You’ve got to let Mitch Kupchak make those decisions. That’s what made the Lakers so great. We had Jerry West — the greatest basketball executive of our time — making the basketball decisions. Look at Miami and what’s happening with the Heat. Why are they so great? Because Pat Riley is making basketball decisions. Now he’s the best basketball executive in the game today. And they all came from the Lakers.

FOXSPORTSWEST.COM — Is Mike D’Antoni the wrong coach for this team?

EJ — The system is wrong for this team. And if it doesn’t change, he’ll be the wrong coach for this team. We don’t have runners — look at the roster. Things will change a little bit offensively — no question — with Steve (Nash) back and healthy. But that’s not going to help us … in terms of playing defense.

FOXSPORTSWEST.COM — Even Kobe — normally great on defense — isn’t playing well right now. Why has his defense been so poor lately?

EJ — We’re asking a man who’s in his, what, 17th season, to do everything. He scores 30 points, then he needs to play defense, then he’s got to be the leader in the locker room. It is tough. I think right now Kobe is a little down. He’s down because they’re not winning, and Kobe wants to win. He’s one of those guys like me; you get upset and you’re looking around (at your teammates for help). He’s playing hard, but you get discouraged. I can understand why Kobe’s discouraged. He never thought in his wildest dreams that we’d 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 Showtime — Showtime played defense. Showtime was committed to the defensive end first because we knew that if we couldn’t stop anybody, we couldn’t get into the fast break. We’ve got to be better. I don’t see the guys happy. It’s one thing to lose, but there’s no spirit. The other team is up — high-fiving — and look at the Lakers. They’re just sitting there. We’ve got to start having fun again. It’s gonna take a while, but we’ve got to get to feeling good about playing with each other as well.

FOXSPORTSWEST.COM — In 1990, you guys were off to a bad start (2-5) and you went to the new coach, Mike Dunleavy, and told him it wasn’t working and to let you run the team on the floor. Is it about time for Kobe to do that?

EJ — I think if it keeps going the way it’s going — especially on this road trip — which will say a lot about our team, then yeah. He’s 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 him — they didn’t know who was calling the plays. Finally I had to go to him and say, ‘Look, we’ve 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 can’t 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 time — I’m 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 didn’t play defense, Michael was coming to tell all of us  — including myself. And he didn’t hold back. They need someone like Michael to say, ‘Listen, if you don’t play defense, I’m gonna put my size 14 … where you don’t 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 wasn’t playing well, Coop would yell at me to ‘get on the Buck attack. You’re not pushing the ball fast enough — what’s wrong with you?’ And we’d 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.