Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Magic Johnson picks wrong time to blow up the Lakers

Poor Magic Johnson. He doesn’t know what he wants. He wants to run the Lakers, but he doesn’t want to run the Lakers.

What he wants, even craves, is the spotlight. He wants to be on television. He wants his name in lights. He wants everybody talking about him.

Barely a month after he stepped down from head of basketball operations for the Lakers, Johnson put himself back in the spotlight again this week.

On the same day when the Lakers introduced Frank Vogel as their latest head coach, Johnson went on an ESPN program and using an incendiary device — his mouth — blew up his former team.

Johnson, who always used to refer to Jeanie Buss as his sister, blasted the way she runs the Lakers, accused Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka of stabbing him in the back, said Luke Walton was a lousy coach and basically implied he would like to run the Lakers again, but only if he owned the team.

On a day when the spotlight should have been on Vogel, Johnson stole the spotlight, just like he used to step in front of other teams’ passes in the days when he was a superstar for the Lakers.

Johnson had a month to get this all off his chest. He waited until the day the Lakers were introducing their new coach to finally give the real reason he walked out on the Lakers before the last game of the season.

Johnson doesn’t like the fact that Jeanie Buss listens to other people in the front office. He was particularly critical of Linda Rambis, who came up in the front office with Buss and who has been one of her best friends for 30 years.

He also was critical of former teammate Kurt Rambis being part of the inner circle and longtime business operations president Tim Harris being in the mix.

He didn’t like the fact that Harris voiced his opinion on firing Walton (he opposed it).

Johnson has been a successful businessman since he quit playing basketball. How does he operate his businesses? Doesn’t he listen to the people he has in positions of trust?

Johnson is like a lot of great athletes. He is not good at coaching others who lack the competitiveness and will to win that made him so great. He can’t stand to see a player not utilize all his abilities to improve his game.

But that doesn’t mean Johnson is great at recognizing greatness when he sees it.

He didn’t hesitate to dump D’Angelo Russell four months after he took over the team.

In his second year with the Brooklyn Nets, Russell played in the all-star game this year and looks like he will justify his selection as the second player taken in the 2015 NBA Draft, a pick made by the long-exiled pair Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.

He let Julius Randle go rather than extend his rookie contract after last season. Randle averaged 21 points and 8.7 rebounds for the New Orleans Pelicans this year.

Only LeBron James averaged more points per game for the Lakers this season than Randle. No one had more rebounds.

Johnson also gave away young center Ivica Zubac to the rival Clippers for Mike Muscala. Zubac became a starter for the Clippers. Muscala played in 17 games over the last two months of the season.

The Lakers may not be in a good place right now, but Johnson is one of the reasons. After his team-detonating remarks May 20, it may take a while for the Lakers to rebound, no matter what kind of coach Vogel turns out to be.

There is no doubt that Johnson is one of the great all-time Lakers. My personal Lakers Mount Rushmore would have Magic up there with Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant.

I will never forget that night in Philadelphia in his rookie year when he jumped center in game six of the NBA Finals because Abdul-Jabbar was back in Los Angeles nursing a badly sprained ankle.

Johnson played 47 minutes, scored 42 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and had seven assists as the Lakers won their second championship ever with a 123-107 victory.

There was a baby skyhook against Boston several years later that sealed another Lakers title.

I’m sorry running the Lakers wasn’t as fulfilling and fun as Johnson thought it would be. I wish him happiness in the future, knowing he will find it back on television somewhere where the spotlight will be on him and people will be interested in what he has to say.

He just picked the wrong time to do it this week. And it made him look every bit as bad as the Lakers.

STILL ROLLING: It seems like only a catastrophic injury or complacency can slow down the Dodgers on their way to a seventh straight National League West championship and a third straight World Series appearance.

The Dodgers are 32-17, leading the West by seven games. Only one team, the Houston Astros, has won more games.

The Dodgers are doing it with steady starting pitching and a powerful lineup, which have been good enough to overcome a bullpen that can be shaky at times.

One thing the Dodgers are good at is winning series. So far they have played 16 series against other teams. The Dodgers have won 10 of those series, lost five and tied one when they split a four-game series at Dodger Stadium against the Washington Nationals earlier this month. If there is something to be concerned about, it’s that the Dodgers are 5-1 in series against National League West division opponents and 4-5 against teams from other divisions.

The Dodgers’ low point of the season came in April after they lost six straight games, four to the St. Louis Cardinals and two to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The skid left the Dodgers at 8-8. Since then they are 24-9.

Cody Bellinger continues to have a tremendous year, rookie Alex Verdugo has worked his way into the starting lineup by hitting .318, pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu has thrown 31 consecutive scoreless innings and closer Kenley Jansen has 14 saves in 16 opportunities and has lowered his earned run average to 3.80.

Everyone else is having a normal season. That’s the way the Dodgers were built. They don’t need superstar years from four or five players. Just steady contributions from everyone.

It’s been a good recipe for success.

SAFE PICK: The NBA Finals start May 30 and we don’t know who will represent the Eastern Conference, but I know the Golden State Warriors will win their fourth title in five years.

Even though either the Toronto Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks will have home-court advantage over the Warriors, the Warriors are just too good. Plus the Bucks and Raptors have three more games to play, meaning they will be worn out while the Warriors are home resting and getting Kevin Durant healed. It doesn’t seem fair.

The Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers, coming back from 15-point deficits in each of the last three games. All without Durant.

I think the Raptors are going to win the East in seven games, with Kawai Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo putting on a show that people will remember for a long time.

Then the spotlight falls on the Warriors and the finals will be over in five games.

And then comes the draft, free agency and, before we know it, the 2019-20 season.

MEA CULPA: In last week’s column, I got the wrong Chicago Cubs shortstop when commenting about Dodger pitcher Julio Urias’ arrest and suspension for domestic violence. Addison Russell, not Jesse Baez, was the Cubs infielder who was suspended for 40 games this season for domestic violence issues involving his former wife. My apologies to Baez.