Magic Johnson still thinks the Lakers are the NBA team to beat next season, but he likes the new-look Miami Heat's chances of winning a title or two down the road with LeBron James.
Johnson had plenty of help from teammates like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy during his playing career, and commended James' decision to join the Heat with the goal of winning a championship alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"You got to give him credit," Johnson said Monday. "He wants to win a championship. When you put LeBron James with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, you put yourself in a position to do that."
However, Johnson isn't crowning the Heat the 2010-11 NBA champion, as many others did after James said he would play for Miami.
Johnson, who owns about 5% of the Lakers, believes the defending champions will win a third straight title, especially after they strengthened their bench by signing guard Steve Blake, forward Matt Barnes and center Theo Ratliff this month.
"The Lakers still have the most talent," he said. "They're the best team in the NBA."
But that could change in a year or two, Johnson suggested. He said Miami needs at least a season for its new roster to get used to playing together. Mainstays such as Wade, guard Mario Chalmers and forward Udonis Haslem remain, but seven new players have filled out the roster with another spot open.
"You've got to remember they're going to have [eight] new guys," Johnson said. "They lose this year; Lakers win. I think that team may win two or three in a row" later.
James' decision to join Wade and Bosh in Miami did more than trigger a seemingly endless buzz about the Heat, Johnson said. It also turned the Lakers into bigger players in the summer free-agent market.
"I think it motivated the Lakers when the three guys got together," he said.
Johnson didn't hide his excitement about the Lakers' own free-agency moves. "Mitch Kupchak did a fabulous job," he said, smiling broadly, of the Lakers' general manager.
"When you think about the moves," Johnson said, "it sets the Lakers up to three-peat— no question about it."
Kupchak also re-signed 14-year veteran point guard Derek Fisher, who briefly considered joining the Heat.
Johnson likes the Lakers' backcourt with Kobe Bryant, Fisher and Blake on board. But he hopes Shannon Brown is added to that group. Brown opted out a two-year deal with the Lakers and is negotiating with the team about a new contract.
Still, Johnson says, the key to another title was retaining Fisher.
"You can't win without Derek," Johnson said. "Derek is the best leader probably in basketball."
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