Top 5 candidates Jeanie Buss, Lakers should try to hire as president
Magic Johnson dropped the stunning news on Tuesday that he was stepping down as the Los Angeles Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations. Though some are saying this leaves the Lakers in disarray and makes them look bad or unstable, the truth is Johnson was not dedicated to the job or doing well at it, and the Lakers are better off without him in that role. Credit to him for recognizing that and stepping away so the Lakers could move forward.
The Lakers are now in a pivotal position for their franchise. They’ve gone six straight seasons without reaching the playoffs, and they have an aging LeBron James on their roster. If they want to win while they have him, they need to get things on track quickly. That starts at the top, where hiring a replacement for Johnson is key in determining the franchise’s future.
Here’s a look at the top five executives the team should be targeting, regardless of how big of long shots some may seem.
1) Masai Ujiri
If you’re the best franchise in the NBA, your list of targets should start with the best executive in the league. And that’s Masai Ujiri. Ujiri was named the NBA Executive of the Year in 2013 for his work building the Denver Nuggets. The team won 50 games twice in his three seasons and reached the playoffs in all three years. They won 57 games in his final season, which marked a successful turnaround following the trade of Carmelo Anthony two years earlier. He left Denver to take a position with the Toronto Raptors after the 2012-2013 season. At the time he took the Raptors job, Toronto was coming off five straight losing seasons and did not have a star since Chris Bosh left for Miami. Since then they’ve become one of the powers in the Eastern Conference, winning 50-plus games four seasons in a row, only unable to get past LeBron James. Some of the gems he drafted in Denver included Kenneth Faried and Evan Fournier. In Toronto, he’s drafted Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell, and added key players like Kawhi Leonard, DeMarre Carroll and Serge Ibaka.
If you’re the Lakers, you dangle the prestige and allure of Los Angeles in front of Ujiri, plenty of money, and make him turn you down.
2) Sam Presti
Presti successfully convinced Paul George to re-sign with the Thunder rather than even hear a free agency pitch from the Lakers, so he might not find the Lakers job too appealing or even necessary to leave for. But he’s another guy I would target and make turn me down before moving on to another candidate. Presti is the best drafter in the entire league. From 2007-2009, he drafted three league MVPs in a row: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. As a bonus, he also snagged Serge Ibaka in the same draft he landed Westbrook. Keep in mind that the Westbrook and Harden picks were viewed as risky at the time, and remember that Portland passed on Durant in the draft. Since then he’s drafted more key players like Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Though his Carmelo Anthony move turned out to be a bust, he’s right more often than he’s wrong and has done an impressive job keeping the Thunder competitive since Durant left.
3) David Griffin (since been hired by Pelicans)
The two men above on the list may have been more of the fantasyland starting points, but in Griffin, you have a candidate who is probably the most available of the bunch. Griffin, 45, was with the Cavs from 2010-2017, serving as GM from 2014-2017. He helped construct the team that won the championship over the Warriors, made the trade that brought in Kevin Love to supplement LeBron, traded for players like JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, signed Matthew Dellavedova, and replaced David Blatt with Ty Lue. He did a very good job in Cleveland, has experience working with LeBron James and his representatives, and was prepared to go all-in before Cavs owner Dan Gilbert got too cheap to pay him in 2017. He’s not perfect, but he’s experienced and seems like a natural fit for the position.
4) Neil Olshey
Olshey only lasted as GM of the Clippers for two seasons before he moved on to Portland, but he did his job in turning around the franchise. He traded for Chris Paul — his crowning moment as the team’s GM — which helped set them up for a decade of success. He also drafted players like Eric Bledsoe and signed guys like Caron Butler and Kenyon Martin, leaving the team well setup for success after he left. He has been with Portland since 2012 and has continued to have success in the draft. He’s selected franchise cornerstones Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He hired and has smartly stuck with Terry Stotts as head coach. The Blazers have won 50-plus games three times since he’s been there and mostly been a Western Conference contender during his time as their GM. You could do a lot worse.
5) Pat Riley
If there is someone who would come in and take charge of the Lakers with authority, bringing them instant credibility, it’s Pat Riley. He helped build the original Big 3 in Miami of LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. He’s won three titles as an executive. He has roots in Los Angeles as a former Lakers player and head coach of their Showtime teams. He’s been in Miami since 1995 and is 74 now, so you have to wonder whether he would have legitimate interest in a move. The opportunity to build a team around LeBron again might be alluring to him as a final act in his NBA career.
A few other names that must be mentioned. Shaq has already advocated for Jerry West to be hired. The thought of West back with the Lakers is comforting to many of the team’s fans, but he’s 80, and you’re probably inviting more of the same problems you had with Magic if you expect him to take on such an encompassing role. Maybe you could try to have him help as an advisor, but he shouldn’t be in charge of a franchise’s day-to-day operations. Also, don’t bring up Kobe Bryant. He’s not a viable suggestion as either an executive running day-to-day operations or coaching the team. You’re probably just asking for many of the same problems you had with Magic. Those are hard jobs and he doesn’t really need or want it in his life.
Another name to watch: Warriors exec Bob Myers. I didn’t think he would leave Golden State, but others are calling him a candidate.