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.