Unencumbered from the league’s tampering rules, former Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said he would have pursued Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and/or Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard as free agents this summer.
“I would say Kawhi and Kyrie are the two guys,” Johnson shared on ESPN’s “First Take” Monday morning. “One of those two.”
Irving and Leonard highlight a loaded group of players set to become available this offseason. Previous reports have linked Irving to ex-teammate LeBron James and the Lakers, though there have been equal amounts of — if not more — speculation that he could stay in Boston or team up with another pending free agent, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, on the New York Knicks.
Johnson did not expound on his reasoning for naming Irving as one of his hypothetical top targets.
“I’m sure there’s a plan A, and there’s a plan B,” he said. “You go after the superstars, and then if that doesn’t happen, you pivot.”
While the 59-year-old Michigan native is no longer a member of the Lakers’ front office, he still seemed open to the possibility of helping recruit players in the future. With potentially $32.5 million available in salary-cap room, the club will certainly look to bring in another star alongside James.
“Listen, I’m a Laker, man,” Johnson said. “If they call me, I’m going.”
During his appearance on “First Take,” his first since abruptly stepping down from his post in April, Johnson also called out general manager Rob Pelinka for his “betrayal,” shook his head at the notion that the Lakers might trade James, and confidently predicted the team will win a championship during James’s tenure.
“It’s going to happen,” he said.