Damian Lillard's stunning trade to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday had almost nothing to do with the Los Angeles Lakers. Still, team legend and proud purple-and-gold partisan Magic Johnson found a way to use the shocking ending of Lillard's trade saga as justification to reveal his Western Conference power rankings in 2023-24.
“The Phoenix Suns got a lot better and a much deeper roster with Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson,” he wrote on Twitter. “The Lakers are the best in the West followed by Phoenix and Denver behind them.”
Whether Phoenix actually got better by swapping Deandre Ayton for Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson is up for debate. Nurkic is a far less reliable and dynamic finisher and overall offensive player than Ayton, also providing less scheme versatility on the other end. The Bosnian Beast remains a major injury risk after his gruesome 2019 leg injury, too, while it's unclear how Little and Johnson will factor into the Suns' rotation given the team's strong performance on the minimum market in free agency. Allen will definitely play for Phoenix, but his defense gets exposed by playoff competition every spring.
More relevant with respect to Johnson's tweet, though, is his boldfaced contention that Los Angeles enters this season a better team than Denver. The Nuggets swept LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company out of the Western Conference Finals just a few months ago. They lost Bruce Brown and Jeff Green in free agency, but still boast basketball's best starting five—not to mention its best player, Nikola Jokic. It's not like the Lakers made some team-changing splash this summer, either.
There's just no justification other than blind hope for the Lakers to be better than the Nuggets right now. Regardless, kudos to Magic for always staying on brand and on message, even when his former team isn't at all involved in the league's narrative of the day.