Luke Walton welcomes Magic Johnson’s return

NEW YORK >> After days spent playing phone tag, Luke Walton finally spoke to the newest member of the Lakers front office on Monday.Magic Johnson told him he was ready to work.“I was excited to hear that he wants in and wants to grind,”...

Luke Walton welcomes Magic Johnson’s return

NEW YORK >> After days spent playing phone tag, Luke Walton finally spoke to the newest member of the Lakers front office on Monday.

Magic Johnson told him he was ready to work.

“I was excited to hear that he wants in and wants to grind,” Walton said before the Lakers 121-107 win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. “That’s what we need. We need to attack this thing as a group and hearing that from him was reassuring, that he’s willing to put in that time.”

Lakers co-owner and CEO Jeanie Buss announced last week that Johnson had signed on to advise her on all matters pertaining to business and basketball, a position intentionally broad in scope.

Walton said he didn’t know how involved Johnson would be with on-court activities, but that the Lakers great has “a whole different perspective” that would be useful to the Lakers core of recent draftees.

“He can talk to D’Angelo (Russell) about what it’s like running a team and all those things that come with being a point guard,” Walton said. “He can talk to Brandon (Ingram) about being a taller player running it in today’s game. we got power forwards that we let run the fast break with Julius (Randle). He’s going to have a lot of unique experience to share with these guys.”

Given Johnson’s larger-than-life persona and strong opinions, some may worry that his presence could undermine Walton’s authority. It’s a notion Walton rejected, saying that he and Johnson will be in contact and that they will work to deliver a singular message.

“If there’s messaging that needs to get across,” Walton said. “I’m sure we’ll talk about it. This is something that we’re going do as a group.”

That’s consistent with Walton’s approach to coaching, where he demands different perspectives and debate.

“I like hearing everyone’s opinion,” he said, “and making the final decision from that. Obviously being able to get (Johnson’s) opinion is a valuable one.”

The hire was widely viewed as a shot at executive vice president Jim Buss, who has been the subject of much criticism from Johnson. Johnson has stated that he intends to work with everyone in the organization to help right the listing ship of a proud organization.

Walton, whose own arrival was heralded as a forward-minded move, said bringing Johnson aboard represents another step in the right direction.

“The Lakers are showing that we’re committed to getting back on top,” he said. “And bringing someone in like Magic, with his championship experience, (to have) one of the all time great players to be around and bounce ideas off and brainstorm different things with is only going to help us in this process.”

World be freed

In the waning minutes of the Lakers victory Monday, a chant rose up from the sellout crowd.

“Metta! Metta!”

With 1:58 remaining, Walton turned to his most veteran player, summoning Metta World Peace from the end of the bench into what could have been his final game at Madison Square Garden.

“We all were ready for him to get in the game,” Julius Randle said.

World Peace, who is from Queens and spent a portion of the 2013-14 season with the Knicks, entered to a wild ovation and promptly made his first shot, a step-back jumper from 14 feet. It was his only make in the game, missing two other field goal attempts and a pair of free throws.

It was Walton’s gift to World Peace for the work he has done behind the scenes in a season that he has shown a limited ability to perform on the court.

“When we’re not playing the right way,” Walton said, “Metta steps up and says things. When it’s time to run sprints in practice, Metta’s in the top five and encourages guys to pick it up. Obviously he’s loved within the locker room. It’s nice to be able to get him opportunities especially in his hometown.”

World Peace has expressed a desire to play beyond this season. When he was asked whether he considered the possibility that Monday could have been his last time playing in the Garden, Larry Nance Jr. spoke up from several lockers away.

“Two more years,” he said.

“I can still play,” World Peace said. “I’m still really good. The main thing is (that) I enjoy playing, as long as I’m having fun. But these guys are really good. Hopefully get the Lakers back to the playoffs and hopefully I can be a part of that ride.”

When he checked in, World Peace said, Carmelo Anthony looked at him and said, “They put the old man in.”

World Peace replied, “I’m the old man, but I’m in good condition. I can keep up. I keep up.”

Like a Randle in the win

Julius Randle returned to the Lakers lineup after missing three of the previous four games with what turned out to be pneumonia. He finished with 14 points before fouling out in 17 minutes, grabbing two rebounds and a pair of assists.

“I feel good,” Randle said. “That was probably the best I felt today in a long, long time so it was good to be out there.”

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