PHILADELPHIA — Los Angeles Lakers president Magic Johnson said the New Orleans Pelicans operated in bad faith during negotiations with his team over a deal for superstar Anthony Davis. However, he said he isn’t dwelling on the trade deadline failure and wants his players to shift their focus forward as well.
“We knew that basically at the end of the day what happened, happened,” Johnson said before the Lakers played the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday. “And we knew that when we first started in terms of what happened. But hey, it is what it is.”
Johnson was asked whether the New Orleans front office — run by general manager Dell Demps and executive vice president Mickey Loomis — acted in good faith from the time Davis’ trade request became public until the deadline passed without a deal.
Johnson replied, flatly, “No.”
But Johnson pushed back against the notion that the public nature of the negotiations was unfair to L.A.’s young core, which heard their names mentioned as trade chips on a near-daily basis.
“Quit making this about thinking these guys are babies because that’s what you’re treating them like,” Johnson said. “They’re professionals. All of them. And this is how this league works. They know it, I know it, that’s how it goes.
“So we’ve got to move forward and we are moving forward. They played outstanding against Boston, give them credit. And we want to play well today and continue on. This is a part of the league. You’ve got a good side of the business that we get paid to be professional basketball players and there’s deals like this.”
Johnson also rejected a characterization that the negotiations were any different than the way the rest of the league conducts their business.
“All deals are… A lot of them are made in public,” he said. “We didn’t make it in public, but that’s part of it. That’s what happens, man. We’ve got big boys here and they bounce back. They’re fine.”
When asked if the way things went with New Orleans could have a hangover effect on his franchise this offseason, Johnson remained steadfast in his vision for returning the Lakers to championship form.
“That’s not going to change our plans this summer,” Johnson said. “It’s a great (free agency) class and we just want to get one of them.”
L.A. settled for two relatively minor moves leading up to the deadline, sending rookie Svi Mykhailiuk to the Detroit Pistons for Reggie Bullock and swapping both Ivicia Zubac and Michael Beasley in a deal for the Los Angeles Clippers’ Mike Muscala.
“We were on the phones early on,” Johnson said, admitting the Lakers wanted to add shooting to their lineup for quite some time. “Nobody was going to make a move until the last week. And we were locked into Reggie for a long time. Had some great talks with Detroit. And then finally it became a deal. Mike was really last second when we didn’t know that Philly was going to make that move (acquiring Tobias Harris from the Clippers). When they made that move and we looked up and said, ‘Man, a stretch 4-5 could really help us out.’ And we feel good about the trade.”
Johnson joined the team in Philadelphia on Sunday after attending a reunion with the 1979 Michigan State NCAA men’s basketball championship team, celebrating the 40th anniversary of their win in East Lansing, Mich. on Saturday. Johnson used the trip to reconnect with his team and reemphasize their directive for now until April: help the Lakers qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2013.
“I talked to guys individually,” Johnson said. “Because that’s important to have sidebars with them. Make sure that we’re heading all in the same direction. And we are. And we got a goal ahead of us to try to make the playoffs. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Sixers’ trades for Harris, Boban Marjanovic, James Ennis III, Mike Scott and Jonathan Simmons were an example of how “stacked” the Eastern Conference has become, according to Johnson. While openly pondering how the East bracket could play out, Johnson said he was “excited” thinking about his team being a part of the postseason.
“I don’t want them focused on this other stuff,” he said. “What happened, whose name was mentioned, all that. That’s over with. That was Thursday. This is now. Everybody got to buckle up and we’ve got to move forward.”
With the high stakes nature of playing in the NBA, let alone playing for a team like the Lakers which has always defined itself by its championship standard, Johnson said that trade talks will only continue to surround his team.
“Listen, we get paid to do a job,” Johnson said. “And we’re all professionals. I’ve been in this league for 40 years. A lot of players got traded on Thursday and Wednesday. Guess what’s going to happen next year? A lot of players are going to get traded. A lot of players will stay home. And I talked to our guys, they’re in a good place. That’s all that matters. We’re heading towards, hopefully, getting into the playoffs. And so, that’s a part of it. A part of NFL, a part of NHL, a part of Major League Baseball, a part of the NBA.”
Johnson was asked about Sixers second-year star Ben Simmons, who as a 6-foot-10 point guard, has drawn comparisons to the 6-foot-9 Johnson, who won five rings playing point guard for the Lakers.
“(Simmons) reached out to me, not to me directly, to the Lakers to find out if we can get together this summer,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Hey you got to clear it with the league,’ and if everybody — the Sixers sign off, we sign off, the league sign off — fine, I will do that. But if everybody doesn’t sign off then we can’t get together.
“But I love his game, I love his vision, I love also too, he’s very, in terms of basketball IQ, very high basketball IQ.”
When asked about Johnson’s comments on Simmons, a team spokesman for the Sixers politely declined comment to ESPN.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this story.