By all accounts, Jerry Buss has been one of the all-time great owners in American team sports history. Gregarious, loyal, willing to spend and content to put smart people in charge and step out of the way so they can do their work. On the good owner checklist, he had every box ticked.
Buss was content to field a winning team and enjoy his alcoholic beverages, his high stakes poker games and his twenty-something starlets and Playboy bunnies ’til the cows came home, a happy man who had all he could ask for and more.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and now, nearing 80 years of age, he had to step out of the way and pass the family business on to his children. Par for the course in every way of life, for sure.
Problem is, he chose the wrong one.
By all accounts, daughter Jeanie is the sharper business mind, not to mention she has an intimate relationship with the man many consider the greatest coach the league has ever seen. Instead, Buss decided to put the team in the hands of his playboy son Jimmy, for reasons that can never be explained. As guesses go, I’d venture something along the lines of “I want my son to be just like me”. Only, he isn’t, by a long shot.
With that decision, the Lakers’ were put in the hands of a man who had no other qualification than bloodlines, and the wheels for destruction were set in motion.
Throw your own ego above all else
Jimmy Buss is responsible for the Lakers’ drafting of Andrew Bynum in the 2005. Just ask him, he’ll tell you. Having gotten that one right, Jim was inclined to make sure the Lakers held onto Bynum at all costs, believing that he was the Lakers’ future franchise player and so long as they had him, he’d be able to pat himself on the back publicly about it. Buoyed by his successes, Little Jimmy was anxious to gain control of the franchise and put his stamp on it, so much so that he wanted to do everything he could to rush Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings out the door. You see, the downside to employing a genius is that he makes everyone else look bad, and so just as Jerry Krause had done in Chicago a little over a decade ago, the younger Buss chased Phil off, so that he could truly assume the reigns and at last, prove to daddy what a superstar he could truly be. Long hesitant to trade Bynum under any circumstances, it took the prospect of getting Dwight Howard, the game’s premier center, to pry Bynum from Jimmy’s cold hands.
If Bynum was to be the future of the team, Jimmy needed a Coach to lead the new Lakers. More specifically, he needed to make a Home Run hire that would further cement his reputation as a brilliant basketball mind. He needed to make a brilliant, unconventional move that would set the world on it’s ear and prove without a doubt that he, humble playboy son of the owner, indeed knew what he was doing.
So he hired Mike Brown.
You see, Jim couldn’t just go with a proven commodity, he had to search high and low for some kind of undercover genius, so that the credit would be all his when it proved to be a rousing success and whatnot. Why exactly he thought Brown was his guy is not only a gigantic mystery, it might just shed some light on Jimmy Buss’ basketball savvy, or lack thereof. Needless to say, his little experiment lasted a grant total of one season and five games. That’s how long it took for Buss to realize that the man he thought was a basketball savant (“you should have seen how many binders full of info he brought to his interview!) was anything but.
Oh, but it gets worse.
Compound your mistakes by making worse ones
Phil Jackson was the logical choice to replace Brown. Logical, I say.
I mean, can you think of a better man to harness the talent and potential of a 100 million dollar roster full of talented but wayward players? Someone who can put the egos in check and establish harmony and even more importantly, a pecking order that everyone can follow? A man with more championship rings than fingers, the most respected coach in the world?
Seems like a slam dunk. Unless you’ve been paying attention, that is.
Second verse, same as the first. The only thing worse than dumping Phil the first time and falling on your face is having to call him and beg him to bail you out of the mess. If Buss’ ego, no matter how misguided it may be, wouldn’t allow him to admit Jackson was smarter than him in the first place, what the fuck would make him do so now?
Right. So, we got this elaborate dance for a week or so, while Jackson asked for the sun, moon and stars as an indirect way of rubbing the failure in the Lakers’ faces while Buss and his cronies try to find some way, any way, to avoid bringing him back. In the end, they went with Mike D’ Antoni, in small part because they may have believed he was the right guy to harness this group of talent, but mostly because they just couldn’t swallow the idea of admitting Phil is smarter than they are.
Employ a little old-fashioned Pretzel logic
If nothing else, I’ve had alot of fun watching young Buss tie himself in knots trying to explain what an absolute fucking disaster this season has become. In a recent interview, he claimed that they didn’t hire Phil because he would have marginalized Nash’s role with the team and even sought to trade him, and that simply didn’t make sense for him. Of course, hiring Mike D’ Antoni, who has made no secret of his dislike for Dwight Howard and players of his ilk, that’s not a deal breaker, but Phil not having use for a point guard pushing 40 was?
For now, he is banking on retaining Howard in free-agency and Howard appears willing to stay, if only he can get D’ Antoni out of there. Oh, and D’ Antoni has a four year contract. Oops. So, we’re left to accept the idea that Buss didn’t want Phil to run off a guard with maybe two good years left in him, but he thought it wise to hire a coach who hates his 26 year old future franchise cornerstone?
Jimmy Buss, folks.
Sift through the rubble
Now that a team that was considered odds-on favorites to win an NBA title is eight games under .500 and a long shot to make the playoffs, the 34 year old star of the franchise is killing himself trying to drag them to victories, every significant player on the team is either being under-utilized or just misused and just about everyone is either unhappy, trade-bait or ready to abandon the sinking ship, what can possibly be done about it all?
Or rather, how much worse can it get?
After you tied your future to Howard, only to sabotage the relationship by hiring a coach who won’t favor him, what exactly is the fix? After taking on a thirty million dollar luxury tax for a team that can’t even win half of it’s games, where is your out? After allowing your best trade asset (Pau Gasol) to become devalued by being put in a role for which he is not suited, what can be done to save the day?
There isn’t any easy way out of this. If we are to assume that this team just doesn’t have it in them to win 75% of their remaining games and sneak into the playoffs, what exactly are you gonna do about tomorrow now that today is ruined? It’s not as if I or anyone else doesn’t have their ideas on how to fix this, but that’s hardly the point. No, the real point is, do we have any faith in the notion that the dim-witted son of the owner has any clue what he’s doing? The question isn’t just rhetorical, it’s moot. Any chance of a turnaround from the upper levels of management hinges on them having the humility to admit what they’ve done wrong here and seek help and council from those more qualified. The only way out of this is to back the fuck up and let some smart people figure it out. Forgive me for this, but there is simply no fucking chance of that happening on little Jimmy’s watch.
That, to me, is what is lost in this whole debacle of a season. With fingers pointing at everyone from Kobe to Dwight to Mike Brown to D’ Antoni to Pau and beyond, the man responsible for all of it is the long-haired guy in the Lakers cap. The guy who looks an awful lot like the smart dude who owns, and until recently, used to lead this franchise to prosperity.
Yep. Little Jimmy is in charge now, and as long as he is, the Lakers are in deep shit.