- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Magic Is Back
Lakers envision Johnson in sixth-man role
Magic Johnson is keeping NBA players up nights again. "He makes anybody a contender," says Rockets guard Kenny Smith. "He'd make Philadelphia a contender."
Johnson stole the NBA spotlight last week when word leaked that he would embark on a comeback with the Lakers after going 4½ years without playing in an NBA game. There had been a cameo at the 1992 All-Star Game and a moving performance with the Dream Team at the '92 Olympics, but Johnson's basketball activity' following the shocking 1991 revelation that he was HIV positive has consisted mostly of celebrity tours and charity games.
He has seriously considered then backed away from about a half dozen comeback attempts, alternately teasing and torturing Lakers fans in the process. One of those aborted comebacks was in 1992, after Jazz forward Karl Malone voiced concerns about competing against an HIV-positive athlete. Convinced that improved AIDS education had diminished opposition to his comeback, Johnson on Monday returned to the game he can't seem to walk away from.
Western Conference contenders immediately began upgrading their notes on the Lakers, who at 24-18 through Sunday had the sixth-best record in the West. "If anybody can do it, Magic can," says Rudy Tomjanovich, coach of the two-time champion Rockets. "And the Lakers were already a good team without him."
But Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale, who made a living battling Magic and the Lakers during a 13-year career with the Celtics, believes that Johnson's age, 36, should temper everyone's expectations. "I think he'll make the Lakers better but not good enough to win the whole thing," says McHale. "What people need to understand is that Magic will no longer be the point guard wizard. He's going to be playing more power forward. He's not going to dominate the game the way he once did."
Lakers coach Del Harris envisions Johnson in a sixth-man role, playing more of a power game than a floor game. He says Johnson is in excellent condition. "There's going to be the normal overreaction," Harris says. "When Michael Jordan came back last year, people were saying, 'Wow, now Chicago will win it all.' But Michael, who was away a shorter time than Earvin [and was only 32 when he returned], wasn't smooth. His timing was off. In fairness to Earvin, we need to put him in that same perspective,"
Free, Not Cheap
Agent David Falk has a busy summer planned. His eldest daughter, Daina, turns 13 this month, and Falk is taking her to Europe for two weeks in July—at the height of the free-agent auction. "We'll probably go the third week of the month," Falk says. "That leaves plenty of time to conduct business before I take off."