"Next summer, if nobody comes and I'm still sitting here like this, then it's a failure," Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said Tuesday. "If I can't deliver, I'm going to step down myself. [Lakers owner Jeanie Buss] won't have to fire me. I'll step away from it, because I can't do this job."
Those are bold words from the man in charge of a franchise that has failed numerous times over the past several years to bring big-name free agents to Los Angeles.
In the next few days, starting late Saturday night when free agency kicks off, the Lakers could very well become the NBA's next "superteam." Maybe the Spurs decide that they need to get what they can now for Kawhi Leonard. Maybe Paul George is ready to finally make the jump to his hometown team. And maybe LeBron James comes to the realization that the Lakers offer the best on-court and off-court situation.
If this transpires, Buss and Johnson will have fulfilled their promise to Lakers fans, bringing at least two stars to Los Angeles and once again making the Lakers a championship-caliber team.
But what about the end result no one is discussing? What if no stars ultimately want to don the purple and gold?
It has been five years since the Lakers earned a playoff berth. During that span, some of the shine on those classic jerseys has dulled. And it has not just been the lack of success in the win column - the organization's pride has taken a hit.
Dwight Howard traveled to Houston despite all of the billboards urging him to stay in Los Angeles. Carmelo Anthony went to the bright lights of New York City. LaMarcus Aldridge chose San Antonio over LA because there was hardly a mention of basketball in the pitch meeting. Kevin Durant? No chance.
Johnson was brought in to regain the Lakers' pride. Buss was tired of losing, tired of being overlooked by free agents.
"Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect," Buss said on the day she hired Johnson. "Together, Earvin, [head coach] Luke [Walton] and our new general manager [Rob Pelinka] will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness."
Since around the midway mark of the regular season, Johnson and the Lakers have pitched the two-year approach. It was a smart play, giving the front office an extra year to prove to a restless fan base that this new group had a plan in place to ensure a return to glory.
But don't believe for a second that the 2019 class is the prize. This current crew of free agents is the one that the Lakers have been eyeing. This is the summer in which they expect to make a big splash. And the timing could not be better for the Lakers to bring one, two or even three stars to LA.
As free agency creeps closer, the pressure is mounting. Recent reports suggest James is hesitant to be the first star to sign with the Lakers, though he may be willing to take the dive and convince others to join him later. The Lakers front office has re-engaged the Spurs in trade talks after San Antonio previously refused to shop Leonard within the Western Conference. The Lakers could lose considerable young talent in any deal for Leonard, but if it results in James becoming a Laker as well, the risk is clearly worth it.
George went so far as to tell the Pacers that he would choose the Lakers when he became a free agent after the 2017-18 season. That remains a possibility, but the latest rumors point to George returning to the Thunder. If the Lakers are unable to trade for Leonard and James also stays put, Johnson and the front office will have an out. They will lean on that two-year strategy and claim not all is lost.
But don't be fooled. A swing and a miss on one (if not two) stars to Los Angeles will be one of the biggest public failures the organization has endured. And remember, those words come directly from Johnson himself.
How can the Lakers be viewed as an organization with the same mystique if they cannot lure players away from Cleveland and Oklahoma City? If they miss out on this golden opportunity, what's the next move for Buss?
Magic and the Lakers have put themselves out there. They have made their intentions clear. It is time for the front office to deliver - or Johnson might have to start looking for another job.