Magic: Lakers must rise around Kobe

Updated: December 20, 2011, 8:42 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Magic Johnson said in order for the Los Angeles Lakers to be a championship team this season, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum must have the best seasons of their careers.

And Johnson tasked Kobe Bryant with making sure that happened.

"What Kobe has to do now is really look to get Gasol and Bynum going and then pick and choose when he should dominate," Johnson said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. "Because he's going to need help, especially more this season than any other season, for them to be really one of the best teams and win a championship."

Bryant, 33, and Johnson have each won five championships with the Lakers. Bryant has undergone four knee procedures since 2003 -- including one in Germany during the offseason -- so it's clear the 13-time All-Star will need some help to win another.

"Those two guys got to have banner years -- Gasol and Bynum -- because Kobe can't carry the load," Johnson said, noting Bryant was entering his 16th season. "You can't expect him to be carrying the load night-in and night-out. They're going to look to those two big men to control the paint, give Kobe a break."

And what happens if Gasol and Bynum don't step up?

"If they don't dominate, it's going to be a long season not only for the Lakers but Lakers fans as well," Johnson said.

Said Gasol: "It's definitely important. It's definitely very important Andrew and myself are consistently productive pretty much every game for us to be consistently successful."

Johnson will have plenty of opportunities to be around the Lakers to see how the team develops this season. Even though he sold his minority share of the team last year, he will be featured in an expanded role as an NBA analyst with ESPN and ABC. The networks will be moving their pregame show to Los Angeles and will shoot it from the ESPN studios in the L.A. Live complex, across the street from Staples Center.

Apart from motivating Gasol and Bynum, Johnson said it will be Bryant's responsibility to lead in new ways.

"I think he's going to have to be more of an emotional leader," Johnson said. "Not just a game-time leader in terms of scoring points and playing defense, but he's going to have to be a locker-room leader. He's going to have to really pick guys up and probably do something he's never done before, and that's really in practice, get these guys going. In the locker room, get these guys going.

"Because the one guy that did that is now gone, and that's Lamar Odom. Lamar was valuable both on the court and off the court. You're going to miss him in the practice and in the locker room, on the airplane and on the busses. Who is going to replace him being that leader? I think that the way I see it, it has to be Kobe."

Bryant disagreed.

"That's big shoes to fill. L.O. was such a goofball. I'm not that personality," said Bryant after practice Tuesday. "That's just not in my DNA. (I'm the) class a--hole."

Odom was traded to Dallas Mavericks along with a second-round pick in exchange for an $8.9 million trade exception and a first-round pick. The move was made after a three-team trade that would have brought Chris Paul to the Lakers was vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern. Johnson, who called for the Lakers' brass to "blow up" the team when they were swept by Dallas in the conference semifinals last spring, applauded the Lakers' trade attempt.

"Let's give the Lakers credit," Johnson said. "I think they did pull off a trade, it just didn't happen. The league said, 'No.' It wasn't like they didn't go to work. So, I have to give Jim Buss a lot of credit, as well as Mitch Kupchak, because they did make a trade that was rescinded. So, you have to still give them a 'B' for effort."

When the trade between the Lakers, New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets fell through, New Orleans resorted to Plan B and struck an agreement to deal Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the Lakers legend's former team not landing Paul, the move still got Johnson excited.

"For the first time, I'm going to be watching Clippers games, too," said Johnson. "So, this is going to be great for the city."

While the Clippers routed the Lakers 114-95 in the team's preseason matchup Monday, Johnson said the revamped roster of the Lakers' neighbors could actually help the purple and gold.

"I think what the Clippers did, if you are a competitor, should make you really come out being really tough and strong," Johnson said. "It's going to take a while for the Clippers to take over L.A., that's not going to happen over a year or two. The Lakers have won too many championships and Lakers fans will not just leave the Lakers. They're very loyal.

"So, the Clippers got a lot to prove still. But, at the same time, if I'm looking across town, I'm saying, 'Hey, that's got to be driving Kobe.' That should be driving Gasol and Bynum and those guys and Derek Fisher to say, 'Hey, no way am I going to let them take over Los Angeles and this city.'"

Johnson also said Miami was the best team in the East and called Oklahoma City "the team to beat" in the West.

Dave Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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