Magic Johnson

A year removed from Collargate, at least Sixers are in better shape than dysfunctional Lakers

A year removed from Collargate, at least Sixers are in better shape than dysfunctional Lakers

May 29, 2018, is a day that will live in infamy among Sixers fans.

One year ago, an article was published by the Ringer’s Ben Detrick which connected then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo to multiple Twitter accounts. Those who weren’t familiar with the term “burner account” learned in a hurry. It all led to Colangelo resigning from his post after an internal investigation.

If Collargate was the scandal we all wanted, then “Lakers 2.0” is the sequel we all needed. What Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka reportedly did to the Lakers makes what the Colangelo conglomerate did to the Sixers look like mere child’s play.

Who would’ve thought when the Sixers missed out on LeBron James that they’d appear to be in better shape than the team that landed him less than a year later?

Much like Detrick, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes wrote an explosive article outlining serious dysfunction in the Lakers’ attempt to return their organization to its previous glory. 

Johnson and Pelinka were able to sign James and crafted it as a masterstroke. Like they were the ones that sold James on choosing them over a team like the Sixers and it wasn’t solely because of geography. According to the story, the Lakers got more than they bargained for with James and all that comes with the superstar.

It was eerily similar to some of the stories that came out of Collargate. It was ironic that commissioner Adam Silver intervened with The Process, forcing the Sixers to bring in Jerry Colangelo, which led to the resignation of Sam Hinkie. The Colangelos were meant to come in and provide stability and instead created an even bigger mess. Beyond the scandal, Colangelo whiffed on several roster moves, most notably Markelle Fultz, that the Sixers felt the pain of this season.

Johnson was expected to provide a similar stability, with Pelinka helping with the minutia of dealing with agents and the numbers. After the duo landed James, they made a series of peculiar moves, signing guys like Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasely — talented players that never quite lived up to their potential and came with plenty of baggage. Then the Anthony Davis saga happened where any remotely talented young player on the roster was publicly dangled. It all culminated in the Lakers missing the playoffs, firing their coach — which then resulted in a disastrous coaching search — and now an offseason of uncertainty.

Thankfully for the Sixers, they have the most stability — at least from a front office standpoint — they’ve had in forever. They’re coming off back-to-back 50-win seasons. Brett Brown returns for his seventh season as head coach. Elton Brand gets his first real offseason as GM. The team has two young All-Stars that should be plenty motivated this offseason.

Sure, we have no idea what’s going to happen with Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris or even JJ Redick. The Sixers only have five players under contract: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Zhaire Smith, Jonah Bolden and Jonathon Simmons (who likely won’t be back since only $1 million of his deal is guaranteed). 

But even with all the roster certainty, at least they’re not the Lakers right now.

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Well, it looks like a Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons workout can happen now

Well, it looks like a Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons workout can happen now

While the Sixers were getting shellacked in Dwyane Wade’s swan song in Miami, something bizarre was happening on the West Coast.

Magic Johnson stepped down as Lakers president in an impromptu press conference before the team took on the Portland Trail Blazers. Even more peculiar: He didn’t tell his boss.

Yikes (pretty crazy to see the very level-headed Woj going in on someone like that, by the way).

So why did Johnson step down? One of the things mentioned was how he’d like to freely interact with players around the NBA. The Lakers have been smacked with fines for tampering on a couple occasions during Johnson’s tenure.

If you’ll recall, Johnson made waves in Philadelphia earlier this season. Already entrenched in a weird situation involving Pelicans star big man Anthony Davis’ trade request, Johnson spoke to reporters at the Wells Fargo Center before the Lakers played the Sixers back on Feb. 10.

When asked a generic question about Ben Simmons, who some have speculated would be keen on joining the Lakers at some point in his career, Johnson had this response:

[Simmons] reached out to me, not to me directly, to the Lakers, to find out if we can get together this summer. I said, you got to clear it with the league ... but if he wants to know how to play the position as a big guard, it's fine, I will do that. But if everybody doesn't sign off we can't get together.

It was odd that Johnson put himself in that situation. During a radio interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, Sixers GM Elton Brand was asked about the situation, saying he told the Lakers “no.” Brand later acknowledged that he had a good relationship with all parties involved and didn't want to make waves. The league reviewed the situation and determined there was no evidence of tampering, but it was still a strange thing for Johnson to share. 

What’s funny is how much Johnson was credited for getting LeBron James to come to the Lakers in free agency. Was it Johnson’s pull or James’ desire to be closer to his family and thinking about his life after basketball that lured the greatest player on the planet to L.A.? It seems to be more the latter. 

Him leaving his current post does make it seem like the comments involving Simmons were innocent and not some sort of recruiting pitch. Johnson is probably the closest parallel in NBA history to Simmons as a near seven-foot point guard.

Now that Johnson no longer works for the Lakers, he’s free to share as many “big guard” secrets with Simmons as he’d like.

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NBA league office, Elton Brand respond to Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons situation

NBA league office, Elton Brand respond to Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons situation

Updated: 5:51 p.m.

The mini-drama regarding Ben Simmons wanting to work with Magic Johnson this summer to learn "big guard" secrets might not be over.

The NBA is looking into whether any contact took place between the Lakers and Simmons that violated league rules.

Tampering, we would presume, might be one of the league rules in question. 

Sixers general manager Elton Brand also responded to the situation, speaking with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Lakers released an official response Monday night, indicating that they received an email from the Sixers in November asking if Simmons would be able to speak with Johnson.

Earlier Monday, Brand said on 97.5 The Fanatic that he declined to give Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka permission to talk with Simmons

Johnson's decision Sunday before the Sixers' 143-120 win over the Lakers to mention the possibility of working with Simmons this summer was unusual, and it's certainly grabbed a few headlines.

The notion that Simmons would want to learn from Johnson isn't so odd. Simmons is obviously not at a Hall of Fame level yet, but his game has justifiably drawn comparisons to Johnson's. His 12 regular-season triple-doubles last season passed Johnson for second-most ever by a rookie, behind only Oscar Robertson.

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