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If Lakers need a frontman, Magic Johnson's available

Magic Johnson says he's willing if asked to help steer high-profile free agents to the Lakers. He says he's done it before, helping to recruit Ron Artest and Lamar Odom.

February 05, 2014|By Mike Bresnahan and Melissa Rohlin
  • Magic Johnson, with fellow Dodgers owner Mark Walter, is among the people that think Lakers owner and executive Jim Buss could use help running the team.
Magic Johnson, with fellow Dodgers owner Mark Walter, is among the people… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

CLEVELAND -- Magic Johnson recently said the Lakers needed a face of the franchise, someone like Jerry West or Phil Jackson, to help sell the brand to free agents during dollar-driven summers.

A volunteer stepped forward Wednesday: Johnson.

He pledged to do whatever it took to turn the Lakers into a championship team, including recruiting of free agents.

"I've done that in the past," Johnson told The Times. "I told [General Manager] Mitch Kupchak that last week. First they have to make up their mind on who they want, and then they tell me, just like I recruited Ron Artest, I talked to Lamar Odom."

Johnson pointed out that he always had a special touch when mediating negotiations between players and Lakers brass, mentioning the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

"I talked to Dr. Buss when Lamar and Dr. Buss were having that problem for a minute there," Johnson said, referring to frosty negotiations between the two sides in 2009. "I was able to calm everybody down and make sure they understood how valuable Lamar was, and then Dr. Buss signed him back.

"I've been in a lot of different things with the Lakers, but it's up to them — [owner] Jim [Buss], Mitch, Coach [Mike] D'Antoni to decide who they want. Once they make their decision, they say, 'Hey, Earvin, can you put in a call to so and so?' "

The Lakers could use it this summer when they'll potentially be $30 million under the salary cap. And next summer when Kevin Love could be a free agent. And the following summer Kevin Durant could be free.

Johnson said the Lakers needed to change some pieces, adding that he would endorse the team trading Pau Gasol, whose contract expires in June.

"If the Lakers can get a No. 1 draft pick for Pau, they should trade him because the problem is you're going to lose him next summer anyway," he said.

Johnson also reiterated his earlier position that Kobe Bryant, currently rehabilitating an injured left knee, should sit out the remainder of the season.

"I'm always in the belief when you come back and then you get hurt again, to make sure you heal your body all the way," he said. "I want him to stay out, but I know that's not who he is. But I definitely want him to stay out to get his body healthy and strong to get ready to go for a championship next season."

Kupchak resolute

The Lakers have been sinking in the standings, but Kupchak hasn't been deterred. There's always next year.

"Our future is a bright future. We're going to be just fine," he said Wednesday to Jared Greenberg and Rick Fox on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "The franchise is going to attract players. Unfortunately, we're going to have a good draft pick this year. We'll get a good player there."

The Lakers were on a 3-19 skid before beating Cleveland, 119-108, on Wednesday.

"It is hard to find the positives," Kupchak said. "But the big picture is bright and this organization always figures out a way to get players and win games."

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Bresnahan reported from Cleveland, Rohlin from Los Angeles.

Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.

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