NBA: Lakers call on legend to bring back the magic

NBA legend Irvin "Magic" Johnson (left) during the game between the UCLA Bruins and the Oregon Ducks at Pauley Pavilion on Feb 9, 2017.
NBA legend Irvin "Magic" Johnson (left) during the game between the UCLA Bruins and the Oregon Ducks at Pauley Pavilion on Feb 9, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) - Retired Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, hired by the NBA club as an adviser to co-owner and president Jeanie Buss, is ready to "call the shots" for the team.

The 57-year-old former guard won five NBA titles in his 13 seasons with the Lakers in a career cut short after being diagnosed with HIV in 1991.

The Lakers announced last week that Johnson would assist Buss "on all business and basketball matters, collaborating with coaches, evaluating and mentoring players, assessing future franchise needs and helping ownership to determine the best path for growth and success."

But Johnson told USA Today he hopes his role will be the man in charge as he tries to rebuild a club that has missed the play-offs the past three seasons despite winning an NBA crown as recently as 2010.

"Working to call the shots, because it only works that way," Johnson told the newspaper. "Right now I'm advising. I get that. But at the end of the day, then we all got to come together and somebody's got to say, 'I'm making the final call,' all right? And who's that going to be? So, we'll see what happens."

The Lakers have an 18-37 record so far this season after posting their three worst seasons since moving from Minneapolis in 1960 - 27-55 from 2013-2014, 21-61 from 2014-2015 and 17-65 from 2015-2016. But the Lakers have also won 16 NBA crowns, one shy of the record 17 held by the Boston Celtics.

Johnson's growing role could herald the departure of co-owner Jim Buss - the Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations. Jim Buss had said he would resign if the Lakers weren't a contender by the end of the season - when Johnson says his role will be defined.

"Look, Jim knows where we are, Jeanie knows where we are, as a franchise, and so some decisions have to be made," Johnson said. "I may only be in this role for a short term. I may be here for a long time. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

Johnson, whose jersey number 32 has been retired by the Lakers, expects rebuilding the Lakers into a contender will take patience and dedication as well as talent.

"It's going to take time and we know that," Johnson said. "I'm not going to fool nobody and I don't want the fan base to think, 'Oh, I'm back, so it's going to turn around tomorrow.' It doesn't work like that. You have to make some good decisions, you have to make sure we use the money wisely when we have it for free agents and then we're going to draft well."

Johnson said he has spoken by phone with Lakers coach Luke Walton and they will meet when the club returns from its current road trip. "If I was trying to make decisions on the team and not consult with him, it would never work," Johnson said. "It's all about coming together and working together, all of us."