Yep. Never thought I’d say this, but I’m starting to change my tune.
Sure, Jimmy Buss’ reign of terror has been a non-stop erotic cabaret of blunders, misreads and baffling decisions. But, if nothing else, it’s also been endlessly fascinating.
Of course, it depends on your interpretation of that word, as well as what you, the individual, is fascinated by. Do you like a good train wreck? Are you intrigued, even entertained, by watching a man with no qualification other than birthright run the NBA’s most popular franchise into the ground in the span of two years? Do you find joy in watching your favorite team turn into a seemingly never-ending episode of the Benny Hill show?
Well, I do. Or at least I do now.
To be clear, this wasn’t the desired outcome for me, by any means. Still, there was a choice to be made. I could spend my time wringing my hands and cursing the gods for raining such unrepentant buffoonery upon this team, or I could just relax, take a deep breath, and find a good spot from which to enjoy the shit show.
I chose the latter.
Look at it this way. Those of us who were around for the Michael Jordan era will always be able to look back and say, “hey, we got to watch the best player the game has ever seen”. Whether or not you were a fan of his, you were afforded the opportunity to see the very best at what he did, and that is a rare privilege.
On the flip side of that coin, I have the distinction of knowing that years from now, I will be able to say the exact opposite about the current owner and operator of the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ll be able to regale friends and family alike about how it was to live in the era of the infamous Jim Buss. The man who took a would-be dynasty in his hands and did this to it.
Yep, I’ll tell them all about the misguided boy who would be King, if only he had any fucking clue what he was doing. The poor schmuck who hired Mike Brown to coach a 100 million dollar team because he liked his big book full of plays, only to fire him five games into his second season and replace him with another coach who was all wrong for his current roster, who in turn was gone two years later when said roster rebelled against him en route to the worst season (27-55) in Laker franchise history.
My audience will recoil in horror when I tell them of the time Little Jimmy fired the Lakers’ entire scouting staff and replaced them with, um, his bartender friend Chaz and a few others. They’ll piss themselves laughing as I describe the time he traded away Lamar Odom, reigning 6th man of the year, for nothing in what amounted to a pout move. You see, Lamar had the temerity to ask for a trade shortly after hearing of the Lakers’ failed attempt to send him to New Orleans in a deal for Chris Paul, a deal which ultimately was vetoed by the league. You see, anyone who followed the Lakers in the least could tell you that Odom was the sensitive, brooding type, and that his feelings had been hurt in this ordeal, but rather than take his time and find the right deal for him Jimmy shipped him off to Dallas just day later for, and you’ll love this.
Well, that’s not entirely true. What they got was an 8.9 million dollar trade exception, which they later sent (along with their unprotected first round picks in 2013 and 2015, unprotected being the key phrase) to Phoenix for Steve Nash, whose Laker career has seen him play in only 65 of 164 games since he came here on a 3 year, 27 million dollar contract.
Point is, Jimmy threw a tantrum, much like the one James Dolan had when he found out Jeremy Lin had signed an offer sheet with the Rockets and refused to match it. In both cases, the men in charge let their emotions get in the way of business and in both cases, these men paid the price.
Let’s see. What else?
Well, what about the Dwight Howard deal? That’s a good one. You see, Dwight Howard was angling for a way out of Orlando after 7 seasons there, and he had a very detailed, nuanced list of demands for where he’d like to play next. A complicated sort, Dwight was looking for just the right combination of money and adulation, combined with the absence of criticism, pressure or expectation. Basically, he wanted to be the man, but not have to take the blame if things went south.
Now, does that sound like a man who is built to come to Los Angeles and play for the Lakers?
To Jimmy, it sure did.
And so, despite Howard’s public (and private) protestations, Jimmy traded for Dwight and stuck him on a team that he fit with about as poorly as one possibly could. 12 months later, Howard was gone, signing a free agent deal for about 30 million dollars less than what the Lakers could give him, such was his distaste for the limelight and pressure of the big city. Not only did this one year experiment result in a worse record than the Lakers had in the previous season, (hard to grasp, ain’t it?) it cost the team Andrew Bynum, who was considered the second best big man in the league at the time and had considerable trade value. It also cost them their 2017 first round pick. Oh, and even though it was pretty much apparent from day one that Dwight was a horrible fit with this team and would leave just as soon as he could, the Lakers not only refused to trade him, they actively tried to re-sign him the following summer and in doing so, sank to desperate depths the likes of which Laker fans had never seen.
Dark times, indeed.
Question was, what was next? Could it possibly get any worse than winning 44 games with a 100 million dollar roster, getting swept away in the first round like cigarette ash on a table, losing Howard in free agency for nothing AND watching the franchise mainstay go down with a torn Achilles, the first and only real major injury of his 18 year NBA career? Could a team with so much going for it possibly implode in such short order?
You bet it could. You know what is harder than taking a team with a ton of talent and getting them to fulfill their expectations? Starting from scratch and building a winner. Even for the smartest basketball people in the world, there is plenty that can go wrong. In the hands of a total nitwit, it’s a trainwreck waiting to happen. The worst was, and still is, yet to come.
Part 2 coming soon.