Prep Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Magic hopes to make Lakers relevant again

Almost 40 years ago, Magic Johnson made the Los Angeles Lakers relevant again.

Drafted number one overall in the 1979 NBA Draft, Johnson teamed with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to lead the Lakers to an NBA championship his rookie season, the first of five the Lakers would win over the next decade.

Now, Magic hopes to do it again, this time from the front office. Team President Jeanie Buss announced Feb. 2 that Johnson was back with the team, working as an advisor to owners and coaches on business and basketball issues, including evaluating and mentoring players.

Since the announcement, Johnson has been all over the media making it quite clear he wanted to run basketball operations at the very least.

The only problem with that is the Lakers already have Jim Buss running basketball operations with Mitch Kupchak serving underneath him as general manager. Does Magic want to replace both of them or just Jim Buss, who he has been highly critical of in the past?

The decision to bring Magic back into the Lakers fold was a good decision by Jeanie Buss. It’s just the timing of the announcement that was surprising.

Could Magic make a difference? Most likely.

He was one of the smartest players of his generation and he has been a success at just about everything he has done since his basketball career ended. His biggest rival as a player, Larry Bird, has done well as the president of the Indiana Pacers.

Other players of Magic’s era — think Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan — haven’t been as successful in the front office.

By now, everyone knows that Jim Buss gave himself a timetable in 2014 to have the Lakers back in playoff contention in three or four years or he would step down as head of basketball operations. Technically, he has one more year to go on that statement and the Lakers could contend for the playoffs next year.

Still, it would help the Lakers if Buss agreed to step down after this year, take another job in the organization and let Johnson and Kupchak run the basketball side of the organization.

Kupchak should stay because he understands things like salary cap space and other rules that Johnson might not be familiar with.

Johnson would especially come in handy when it comes to wooing free agents. The Lakers have been horrible at that recently, but Johnson — on the strength of his personality and his stature as one of the game’s all-time best players — could solve that problem.

The Lakers are moving in the right direction. Their last three drafts have produced six quality players — Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac — who will be the nucleus of the team down the road. They have a good young head coach in Luke Walton.

The front office made some mistakes in the offseason in free agency when, after failing to attract any stars, they threw big money at Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng.

Deng works hard on defense and provides some rebounding but he is on the downside of his career and not worth the four-year, $72 million contract he received.

Mozgov received a four-year, $64 million contract and hasn’t got off the bench in two weeks, with Zubac now taking his minutes.

That’s why Johnson needs to take on a leading role with the Lakers. If he wants to be in charge, Jeanie Buss needs to find a way to put him in charge and Johnson needs to make the Lakers his number one priority.

With Johnson calling the shots, a young nucleus growing up together and a young coach to guide them, the Lakers could be relevant again soon.

Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary's Avery Martinez puts up a shot over St. Bernard's Malcolm Bray in a Del Rey League game at Cantwell earlier this season. Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary opened the Southern Section boys playoffs Feb. 15 against La Mirada in Division 1AA. (Photo by Mario Villegas)
Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary’s Avery Martinez puts up a shot over St. Bernard’s Malcolm Bray in a Del Rey League game at Cantwell earlier this season. Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary opened the Southern Section boys playoffs Feb. 15 against La Mirada in Division 1AA.
(Photo by Mario Villegas)

HIGH SCHOOL PLAYOFFS: The bloated post-season known as the high school basketball playoffs begin this week and there are plenty of area teams participating. The list of area teams not participating is shorter than the list of teams that did qualify.

The CIF Southern Section has12 divisions of playoffs in both boys and girls. The Los Angeles City Section only has six divisions.

The best teams qualify in the 16-team open division. There are no boys teams that qualified for the Southern Section open division, but two girls teams did. Windward in West L.A. hosts Lakeside of Lake Elsinore in the first round of the open division Feb. 18. Serra of Gardena hosts Fairmont.

In the L.A. City boys open division, Dorsey travels to Birmingham, Narbonne hosts Taft, Westchester hosts Washington Prep and Fairfax hosts El Camino Real. Those games are at 7 p.m. Feb. 17.

The L.A. Girls open division begins play Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Fairfax hosts Legacy, Eagle Rock travels to Granada Hills Charter, Carson travels to El Camino real and Palisades hosts Narbonne.

In the Southern Section, boys play opened Feb. 15 while girls open the playoffs Feb. 16.

In boys’ action Loyola traveled to Walnut and Downey traveled to San Clemente in Division 1A action. Compton Dominguez had a bye.

In Division 1AA, Serra hosted Lynwood, La Mirada hosted Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary, Inglewood traveled to Edison and St. John Bosco traveled to Santa Barbara.

In Division 2A, Leuzinger hosted Lakewood and Mark Keppel traveled to Saugus.

In Division 2AA, Whittier traveled to Crescenta Valley and Lawndale hosted Windward.

In Division 3A, Alhambra traveled to 29 Palms, Compton Centennial traveled to San Bernardino and St. Paul had a bye.

In Division 3AA, La Serna hosted Righetti, Santa Fe hosted San Juan Hills, Schurr hosted Buena and Pioneer traveled to Laguna Beach.

In Division 4A, Salesian hosted Rosemead and in Division 6 Mesrobian of Pico Rivera hosted Cornerstone Christian.

In Southern Section girls’ action, El Rancho hosts Westminster and Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary hosts Patriot in Division 1A.

In Division 1AA, Lynwood hosts Chino Hills and Mark Keppel had a bye.

In Division 2A, Warren travels to Garden Grove, Leuzinger hosts Mayfair and Whittier hosts Glendale.

In Division 2AA, Ribet Academy travels to Tustin, Culver City travels to Arroyo Grande and Downey has a bye.

In Division 3A, Bellflower travels to Crossroads, Montebello hosts Viewpoint, Price hosts Oxnard and Pioneer travels to Bassett.

In Division 4AA, California travels to La Mirada.

Senior Brandon Unaka (23) of George Washington Prep goes up for a shot over two Dorsey defenders during play earlier this season. Both teams enter the L.A. City basketball playoffs this week. (Photo by Nick Koza)
Senior Brandon Unaka (23) of George Washington Prep goes up for a shot over two Dorsey defenders during play earlier this season. Both teams enter the L.A. City basketball playoffs this week. (Photo by Nick Koza)

In L.A. City boys’ action, Crenshaw hosted Poly, South Gate hosted Venice and Hamilton hosted Rancho Dominguez in Division I games Feb. 15.

In Division II, Carson hosted Robert Kennedy Community School, Los Angeles hosted Central City Values, Garfield hosted Vaughn, Middle College traveled to Kennedy, Gardena hosted Verdugo Hills, King Drew hosted Roosevelt and Bernstein hosted Animo South Los Angeles.

In Division III, Van Nuys hosted Wilson, South East hosted Torres, Roybal hosted Mendez, and Animo De La Hoya hosted Angelou.

In Division IV, Chavez hosted Canoga Park, West Adams hosted Maywood, Collins Family hosted Jefferson, Lakeview Charter hosted Legacy, Hawkins hosted Stern and Locke hosted Bravo.

In Division V, Animo Robinson hosted New Animo Charter and Camino Nuevo Dalzell Lance hosted Animo Watts.

In L.A. City girls action Feb. 16, Westchester hosts Kennedy, Roosevelt hosts University, View Park hosts Poly,

Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies hosts North Hollywood, Garfield hosts Marshall, and Venice hosts Bell in Division I.

In Division II, Arleta hosts Huntington Park, King Drew hosts Valley Academy, Dorsey hosts Hollywood, Crenshaw hosts Belmont and San Fernando hosts Rancho Dominguez.

In Division III, Wilson hosts Harbor Teacher, Mendez hosts Middle College, Lincoln hosts Animo Robinson, Bravo hosts Hawkins, Torres hosts the Northridge Academy, Sotomayor hosts Jefferson and Collins Family hosts Gardena.

In Division IV, Elizabeth hosts Santee, Reseda hosts Marquez Community Charter hosts Rivera; Angelou hosts New Designs and West Adams hosts Downtown Magnet.

In Dvision V, CALS Early College travels to Valor Academy, Annenberg hosts Academia Avance, Lakeview Charter hosts Burton, Maywood hosts Sun Valley Magnet, Triumph Charter hosts USC Hybrid, New Designs Watts travels to New West Charter, Animo Venice hosts Discovery and Aspire Ollin University hosts Animo Watts.

GENESIS OPEN: Tiger Woods pulled out of the Genesis Open, which opens play Feb. 16 at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, but 19 of the top 30 players in the Official World Group Ranking, are playing topped by Australian Jason Day, the world’s top-ranked men’s golfer.

The field of 144 also includes reigning U.S. Open champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year Dustin Johnson; 2015 Masters and U.S. Open Champion Jordan Spieth; 2013 Masters and 2005 tournament champion Adam Scott; 2016 Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose; 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar; 2016 PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker; two-time winner Bubba Watson and World Golf Hall of Fame member Phil Mickelson.