Lakers legend Magic Johnson considers the Miami Heat favorites to win NBA… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
Magic Johnson has forever oozed optimism. From his smile, uber competitiveness and on-court playmaking, Johnson never saw a challenge be believed he couldn't overcome. But even Johnson has some doubts on whether the Lakers' revamped roster, headlined by Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, will be enough to win the NBA championship.
"You still have to consider Miami the favorite because they're the defending world champions," Johnson said Monday evening at Time Warner Cable Sportsnet's launch party. "But I think the Lakers are right there with them, no question about it. It's going to take them a couple of months to get to know each other, probably about three months to become a real team. You have Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. So they have to learn how to mesh together. Once they do that, they're going to be awesome."
Most Laker fans will hardly want to wait even one regular season game before expecting the team to unveil its absolute dominance. Still, there's so many personnel issues to consider.
Although the Lakers don't expect a long-term injury, how long will Dwight Howard sit out because of his surgically repaired back? How will Nash direct the offense? How will Bryant defer more to teammates while also maintaining scoring efficiency? How will Gasol strike the balance between embracing team play and playing more aggressively? Will Metta World Peace feel lost in the offense? Will the Lakers' revamped bench, headlined by Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, improve as planned?
Meanwhile, Miami returns its core roster in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat also added sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to complement its bench.
"They got talent," Johnson said. "When you have talent like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, that's some talent just like we have on our team. Before we get to Miami, we have to concentrate on Oklahoma City and really look to take them down first. But the Lakers are awesome. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have done an amazing job and we're all going to benefit from that."
But will the Lakers even have enough to stop the Thunder's speed?
"I think the Lakers to me, if they can put it all together, are the better team," Johnson said.
Even if Johnson doesn't believe the same holds true should the Lakers and Heat match up, that doesn't mean the purple & gold's chances are suddenly doomed. It just means to Johnson that the Lakers will have some learning curves.
"We have to play great defense," Johnson said. "It's going to depend on that. We're going to get easier baskets because Steve Nash will run more. A lot will happen that's different than we ever had before. Steve Nash can score and also assist. That's something different that we never had before in a long time at the point guard position."