Why Isn't Magic More Excited About the Lakers' Prospects?

Few fan bases in the NBA are looking forward to the upcoming season more eagerly than that of the Los Angeles Lakers.

It could hardly be otherwise, as in the summer the 16-time NBA champions welcomed the arrival of LeBron James, the man they had relentlessly pursued for over a year. The greatest player of his generation playing for arguably the most glamorous franchise in the league was always bound to set pulses racing, and it has.

It has also given Magic Johnson, the Lakers' president of basketball operations, plenty of good reasons to be optimistic ahead of the new campaign. Johnson had identified LeBron as the franchise's main target this summer, and he delivered him on a plate, with the three-time NBA champion signing a four-year deal worth $154 million as soon as free agency opened in July.

Tellingly, Johnson has refrained from indulging in raising the bar of expectations too high ahead of the upcoming campaign. He's spoken with the usual pizzazz and confidence during the offseason, but those expecting bombastic statements claiming the title was heading back to California were left disappointed.

In fact, speaking to reporters on the team's media day on Thursday, Johnson warned the Lakers could actually experience a slow start.

"As I was talking to [Lakers coach] Luke [Walton], we said don't worry about if we get out to a bad start," he said. "[LeBron] is going to struggle because there are so many new moving parts. But eventually we are going to get it, and we are going to be really a good team."

The bookies have seemingly bought into the Lakers hype, with Westgate SuperBook making them fourth-favorite to win the title this season at 12/1.

NBA Championship updated

Warriors 1/2
Celtics 5/1
Rockets 15/2
Lakers 12/1
Raptors 12/1
76ers 14/1
Thunder 25/1
Jazz 80/1
Pacers 80/1
Spurs 100/1
Pelicans 100/1
Timberwolves 100/1
Nuggets 100/1
Bucks 100/1
Wizards 100/1
Heat 200/1
Trail Blazers 200/1
Clippers 300/1

— Jeff Sherman (@golfodds) September 17, 2018

The fact the Lakers are fourth-favorite to win the title next season is even more remarkable considering they last became NBA champions in 2010.

After missing the playoffs only twice between 1976 and 2013, the Lakers have not made an appearance in the postseason since and LeBron's arrival is expected to re-establish them among the leading contenders.

Privately, Johnson might well believe the Lakers are poised to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, but if he does, he's done a wonderful job of keeping that to himself.

Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, discusses the upcoming Los Angeles Lakers’ season at UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, California, on September 20. Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Realistically, it is very difficult to see the Lakers reaching its first NBA finals in nine years in June. LeBron needs no introduction, and in Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart the Lakers have one of the most promising young cores in the league.

However, they alone will not be enough to wrestle the title off Golden State. Yes, LeBron has taken teams to the finals by himself before but not even he can stop the Warriors juggernaut over seven games.

More importantly, while the Celtics and the Sixers have made giant strides, the Western Conference is probably more competitive than the Cavs faced over the last four years.

LeBron was expected to be joined in California by another superstar, with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard thought to be the leading candidates back in July. However, neither will play in California next season, and there have been some criticizing the Lakers' recruitment this summer.

On Thursday, Johnson defended the decision to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and sign Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley.

"No concerns. We love that they all are different individuals and they bring something different to the table," he explained. "We needed some grittiness, we needed some toughness. We needed somebody to come in and be upset that somebody had a defensive lapse."

The five-time NBA champion also moved to dispel concerns the Lakers lack shooters to benefit from LeBron's service.

"We won't rely just on LeBron making all the shots for people—in terms of creating the shots for people or himself," he explained. "We want him also to play off of it, but that's on Luke [Walton]. I'm not here to tell you how the offense is going to go, because that's not my job."

Perhaps Johnson knows it is sensible to keep expectations under control or perhaps he knows the Lakers are not quite ready to go deep into the postseason yet. With LeBron, they have taken the first and most important step.