MIAMI (AP) — Pat Riley has never doubted Magic Johnson, and isn’t about to start now.
Riley believes Johnson will succeed in what looks like a daunting task of getting the Los Angeles Lakers back to prominence. After the Lakers cleaned house this past week, Johnson and Riley are contemporaries — Riley as president of the Miami Heat, Johnson in the same role out in L.A., where they won four titles together in the 1980s.
Trade talks, he cautioned, will be dangerous for both sides.
“He’s going to try to rifle my pockets and I’m going to try to rifle his,” Riley said. “But I’m happy for him, and I’m also happy for the Lakers.”
The news took Riley back to 1991, when Johnson delivered the shocking word that he was HIV-positive and had to retire from basketball. Riley was gone from Los Angeles by that point, and was then coach of the New York Knicks. But it resonated deeply within Riley, who has maintained a very close relationship with Johnson.
Hearing Johnson speak about taking over the Lakers this past week moved Riley as well, albeit in an obviously different fashion.
“Back then, all of us and I think everybody in the country not knowing exactly what HIV was all about, we all sort of looked at that as a very difficult time and possibly a death sentence for the kid,” Riley said. “Now 25 years later, he stands at the press conference saying that he’s president of the team. Deja vu, you know?”
Riley said Johnson didn’t seek his counsel on what life is like as a team president before taking the Lakers job. Riley said Johnson already knew the answer to anything he would ask, simply from being around his former coach so many times in recent years.
The news wasn’t entirely easy for Riley to digest, since he also holds now-former general manager Mitch Kupchak in high regard. Kupchak, who played for Riley, was let go as part of the front-office sweepout by the Lakers this past week.
But he sounded completely confident in what Johnson will accomplish.
“There couldn’t be a better person and worker, I think, to be the sort of face and also to spearhead,” Riley said. “He’ll get the job done out there.”
When Golden State hits the road for a long trip, the road rarely hits back. The Warriors haven’t had a losing record on any trip of four games or more since November 2013, a span of 14 trips.
That might get tested in the next few days, part of a stretch that Warriors coach Steve Kerr called “insane.”
Golden State’s next eight days are busy, to say the least. The Warriors are at Philadelphia on Monday and Washington on Tuesday, then visit Chicago on Thursday and end this trip with a back-to-back at New York and Atlanta next Sunday and Monday.
From there, it’s a cross-country flight home for a March 8 game against Boston — then it’s back to the road for a back-to-back at Minnesota and San Antonio on March 10 and 11.
And here’s a note that might play a role in the race for No. 1 out West: Both of Golden State’s games at San Antonio this season are on the second night of road back-to-backs for the Warriors.
THE WEEK AHEAD
A look at some of the games to watch this week:
Miami at Dallas, Monday: The Mavericks are the last team to hold Miami under 100 points. The Heat scored 99 on them Jan. 19.
Utah at Oklahoma City, Tuesday: They’ve split their first two meetings, and both are very much in the race for No. 4 out West.
Cleveland at Boston, Wednesday: A big game for whatever hopes the Celtics have of passing Cleveland for the East’s No. 1 seed.
L.A. Clippers at Milwaukee, Thursday: Doc Rivers and Jason Kidd played head-to-head eight times, Rivers’ teams winning five.
Toronto at Washington, Friday: Another game with East implications. The Raptors still need clarity on Kyle Lowry’s wrist issue.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Dwyane Wade, Chicago: He should have had his first triple-double in more than six years on Saturday night, but Cristiano Felicio — his teammate — grabbed what would have been Wade’s 10th rebound as time expired. Jimmy Butler had a triple-double in the same game; the last time the Bulls had two on one night was in 1989, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did the honors.