Harris was right, Magic. You were most valuable to the team when you were out on the perimeter, creating opportunities for yourself and others. And your coach deserved better than your criticism of his strategy. He was the one who heartily embraced your return, hyping your status as a superstar and a winner, while others in the organization were queasy at the prospect of your pulling on that retired number 32 jersey.
No doubt, other teams do have interest in Johnson's services. But do those teams want him to sell tickets or to win games? Miami coach Pat Riley, Magic's coach during the Lakers' glory years in the '80s, loves Johnson like a son, but Riley is trying to build a championship team, not a family tree. You make the call: If Riley has a choice of spending $10 million on his old Showtime pal or on the Bullets' gifted young All-Star forward and free-agent-to-be, Juwan Howard, whom do you think he'll choose? Isn't it obvious?
Perhaps to everyone but Johnson himself. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times before Game 4, Magic, who earned $2.5 million for playing half of this season, assessed the impending free-agent scramble and his own status by saying, "Michael Jordan is going to be paid the highest, and I have to be right up there with Michael, Shaq, whatever."
How much should the Lakers have to pay Magic Johnson? When he retired the first time, the franchise sent him on his way with wheelbarrows of cash ($19.6 million), and if this is all about team, shouldn't Magic understand the need to preserve cap flexibility to sign Orlando's O'Neal and/or Howard, two high-impact players who have expressed interest in L.A.?
No one should condemn Magic Johnson for thirsting to win and for believing he can make it happen. But before training camp he should sit in a dark room and watch films of himself from L.A.'s abbreviated 1996 postseason. Perhaps the images will surprise him. He still has the savvy and confidence most of his fellow players can only dream about, but he's the one who's dreaming if he thinks he has the same impact as Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal.
There's still a place for Johnson. If he can learn to live with his role as that crafty sixth man who made L.A.'s stretch run so entertaining, who wouldn't want him?
But Houston guard Sam Cassell got it right when he declared that the '80s were over. Showtime is past time, to be replayed on VCRs in the heat of June when today's Lakers are on the golf course, reviewing their early playoff exit, and wondering what might have been.
The Mourning After
In Miami's first two losses—by 17 and 31 points, respectively—to Chicago during their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series, Heat center Alonzo Mourning averaged 12.0 points, 5.0 fouls, 6.5 turnovers, 0.5 blocks and 5.0 rebounds. In Game 3, which completed the Bulls' sweep, Mourning salvaged his series scoring average, at least, by tossing in 30 points. His team still lost by 21.
Come July 1, Mourning will be a free agent. His disastrous postseason has renewed the debate over his value, which insiders have estimated could fall between $13 million and $17 million a season if the Heat, as expected, re-sign him.