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LAKERS FYI

Magic Johnson is proud of Kobe Bryant for speaking up

Johnson says Lakers need to make "one or two trades" before March 15 deadline to be a serious contender in the West.

February 22, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Former Lakers great Magic Johnson says the Lakers need to make changes if they want to be NBA title contenders.
Former Lakers great Magic Johnson says the Lakers need to make changes if… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Reporting from Dallas — Magic Johnson still cares. Obviously.

He sold his 4.5% ownership stake in the Lakers two years ago but still has plenty to say about the franchise he drove to five NBA championships.

"I'm proud of Kobe [Bryant] for being a good teammate and being a good leader and voicing his opinion," Johnson said, referring to Bryant's decision to challenge the front office.

Johnson also challenged Lakers management Wednesday.

In addition to saying team executive Jim Buss needed to update Bryant more often on the team's plans, Johnson said the Lakers must make "one or two trades" before the March 15 deadline.

"They can compete for the Western Conference championship," Johnson said. "But if they don't [make a trade], I don't think they'll compete. I think Oklahoma City is better. San Antonio is also playing better than the Lakers right now."

Johnson remains on the Lakers' payroll as a vice president. He is also an ESPN analyst and spoke to reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban heard about the Lakers' drama. He wasn't sympathetic.

"I could care less," Cuban said before the Lakers beat the Mavericks, 96-91, Wednesday at American Airlines Center.

Should Buss meet with Bryant?

"If Magic says that, I hope they don't," Cuban said. "The more drama in other teams' locker rooms, the happier I am. I hope there's incredible drama in 29 locker rooms."

Cuban admitted longing for a certain type of drama.

"I miss Phil [Jackson]," he said. "Phil was smart. He was fun to mess with, knowing that he'd come right back, return volley, and I'd return volleys like a good tennis match. The volleys went on and on. They got more intense. I really miss that. I hope he gets back in the NBA. You don't often find the perfect bucket boy."

Cuban and Jackson fenced with each other over a litany of issues, starting in 2000 when Cuban scolded the Lakers for not spending enough during a slow off-season.

Jackson replied that Cuban should "keep his mouth shut," and a long-running battle of words was born.

The Lakers' front office wasn't the only topic on another busy day for the Lakers.

Bryant analyzed the learning curve for first-year Lakers Coach Mike Brown, who was publicly questioned by Metta World Peace and Andrew Bynum about his substitution patterns and lack of rest between games.

"It's a constant learning process for him, coming to a group that, we know how to play so well together, and so forth," Bryant said. "We have certain things that are habitual for us, whether it's pregame routines and other stuff. They seem shocking to him: 'How the hell did you win championships doing this stuff?' But it works for us. It's just a matter of him kind of getting used to it. He's doing it."

Bryant also shed light on the brief, informal discussion among Lakers players after their victory Monday against Portland.

"I wouldn't have called it a team meeting," he said. "After the game, guys talked, [ Derek Fisher] got up and talked, said a couple of words, and that was about it.

"It was just us understanding that we reached the midway point of the year and we really have to lock in on what we have to do and stay focused on ourselves and not let any outside distractions, be it trade talk, be it criticism or whatever the case may be, interfere with what we have to do as a group."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.

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