STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
All right. The NBA returns to work on Thursday after this past weekend's All-Star game - the traditional mid-season break for Pro Basketball. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman hardly ever takes a break. And he's back with us. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) How are you?
INSKEEP: I'm doing fine. Good morning. Good morning. Not such a good start to the season - or first two-thirds of the season almost - for the Los Angeles Lakers. They're 19-39. What do they do now?
GOLDMAN: Yuck. Well, you know, when in doubt, get Magic back. They got Magic back, Magic Johnson, probably the most popular and famous Laker of all. But unfortunately, they're going to use him in a suit and tie and not in a jersey and shorts.
INSKEEP: Too bad for them.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. He was named as the team's new head of basketball operations. He's replacing Jim Buss, who said three years ago he would resign in three years if the struggling Lakers didn't turn things around. Well, they didn't. And his sister Jeanie, the team president, didn't wait for him to walk away. She fired him.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) That is hardcore.
GOLDMAN: Thanks, sis. Although he's still part-owner. There's hope that Magic can help lead the Lakers back to greatness from the front office the way he led them to five titles in the 1980s on the court. Now, I should say he's never really run a team. And he and Jeanie Buss warned this isn't going to be easy or quick, but at least there's a little hope in Laker land.
INSKEEP: So they're not really hoping to salvage this season, but maybe in a future season they hope his - Magic can bring back magic?
GOLDMAN: Very good, yeah, absolutely.
INSKEEP: OK. All right. So tell me, Tom, we're in this break, we're about to get out of the break, isn't this the last moment for teams to shuffle their lineups to get in some new talent and go for the playoffs?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. The trading deadline is coming up. And the biggest trade to date is a coveted center - DeMarcus Cousins - was traded to New Orleans and giving the Pelicans - the New Orlean (ph) Pelicans, New Orleans Pelicans - incredible potential. Both DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, who he's joining in New Orleans, they're called generational talents. Kind of like you, Steve, a generational talent. Once every generation, you come along.
GOLDMAN: But in the basketball world, these are guys that are big and skilled and versatile and they don't come around often. And now they are playing together. Right now, New Orleans is outside the top eight teams in the Western Conference. The top eight from each conference go to the playoffs.
But if they can gel, if these two guys can work together, this team could be very interesting. And they could give the Warriors a little trouble. Because for all the Golden State Warriors do well, matching up against two active big men might be a weakness. Golden State doesn't have the big guys to match. So it'll be fun to watch.
INSKEEP: Well, when you talk about generational talents, Tom Goldman, once every generation it seems we have an Isaiah Thomas in the NBA. And literally another Isaiah Thomas in the NBA, short of six feet but making a big impact. Could he actually have an effect on the playoffs here?
GOLDMAN: I think he certainly could. He certainly had an effect on the regular season so far. He's an amazing phenomenon. He's listed at 5'9". But I've heard that's generous. He's the second leading scorer in the league. He's a deadly three point shooter. He drives to the hoop with a vengeance, which, Steve, is how you have to drive to the hoop when you're 5'9" and seven-footers are waiting at the hoop for you.
INSKEEP: Yeah. But he's doing well for the Boston Celtics here. And he's - what the namesake of the original Isaiah Thomas, I guess we should say.
GOLDMAN: Exactly, the original from Detroit. The current one is from Boston. And he is must-see NBA action.
INSKEEP: OK. Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
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