Credit: ESPN.com

The Lakers Are Lost Without Dr. Jerry Buss


The Los Angeles Lakers have spent the past two summers recruiting top tier free agents to come to one of the most gorgeous cities in the world and play for the most glamorous and successful franchise in the NBA. For there hard work they have absolutely nothing to show for it. It’s not so coincidental that the patriarch of the Los Angeles Lakers hasn’t been around for the past two summers. If he were around we wouldn’t be reading this current script, we would be reading his.

On February 18th, 2013 at the age of 80 we lost the greatest owner in the history of professional sports: Dr. Jerry Buss. Not only was Buss a wildly successful NBA owner, having won 10 Championships as owner of the Lakers, but he also changed the NBA forever. He was an absolute titan in the industry, he was at the forefront of the growth of the NBA, and he produced superstar after superstar in Los Angeles. He will forever be known as the greatest sports owner of all-time. It’s not up for debate.

But now, without their esteemed leader, the Lakers franchise rests in the hands of Jeanie and Jimmy Buss, the heirs to the good doctors throne. However, without the guidance of their father, the current Lakers owners have failed to deliver time and time again over the past 17 months. It’s not a coincidence at all. The Los Angeles Lakers are lost without Dr. Jerry Buss.

The question isn’t whether Jeanie and Jimmy Buss are lost. That much is fact based on results. The question really is why are the Lakers lost and how can they get back on track?

Credit: basketballforum.gr

Credit: basketballforum.gr

Could it be as simple as bad luck? The Lakers, for all of the magnificent moves of the past 34 years, have been an extremely lucky organization. In essence, the balls have bounced their way for the better part of four decades. They were awarded the number one pick in 1979, when Magic Johnson was available. They traded basically nothing for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They won a title in 1982 with Kareem and Magic, yet somehow managed to wind up with the first pick in the 1982 draft. They chose James Worthy and the rest of the 1980′s are history.

Jerry West, GM of the Lakers at the time, managed to trade Vlade Divac for the 13th pick in the 1996 draft. The Lakers ended up with one Kobe Bean Bryant, but only because the New Jersey Nets decided to pass on Bryant with the 8th pick, instead drafting Kerry Kittles. Later that summer the Lakers convinced Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant force in the NBA, to come to Hollywood. The Lakers won three more championships with that duo. Kobe went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010, but only after the Lakers were gift-wrapped Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. The Lakers, in short, have been the luckiest organization in the history of basketball.

However, the Lakers luck turned sour in 2011, when shortly after the NBA lockout the Lakers were unable to pull off an agreed upon trade with the New Orleans Hornets for PG Chris Paul. It will forever be known as “Basketball Reasons”. It will also be remember because it was the first time the Lakers had really ever experience a stroke of bad luck. Without going into great detail, the decision to nix the trade by the league office has resulted in a tectonic shift of the basketball landscape.

But was it really bad luck? Dr. Buss was ill at the time of the trade. Do you think David Stern would have nixed that trade if Jerry Buss had the last word?

The Lakers moved on and a year later acquired Dwight Howard, the most dominant big man of his era, and Steve Nash, a two-time NBA MVP. The luck was back! Well, so we thought. The Lakers could never get it together in 2012-13, Dr. Jerry Buss passed away, Nash broke down, and Howard decided to bolt town. Howard ended up being the first marquee free agent to ever leave the Lakers organization. It’s not a coincidence that Dr. Buss wasn’t around when Howard made his decision to flee to the Houston Rockets. If he had the last word, Howard would have been wearing the purple and gold.

Dr. Buss was a magician when it came to landing superstars via trade or through free agency. He was a listener, someone who would really take in the concerns of the players, but he would always have the final word. He was a wordsmith, a man who always knew what to say when it needed to be said. He sold Shaq on the potential of living in Hollywood and expanding his horizons beyond just basketball. He convinced Phil Jackson to come to the Lakers, a year after he had “retired” from coaching, luring him in with the possibility of another dynasty with Shaq and Kobe. He chose Kobe over Shaq in 2004, but only after convincing Kobe that the leading the Lakers was his destiny, not signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. He always had the last word and he always closed the deal.

Now, in the post-Dr.Buss era, who do the Lakers have closing the deal? Is it Jeanie Buss, the hyper intelligent President of Basketball Operations? Is it Mitch Kupchak, the acclaimed GM who has brought together five championship teams in LA? Or is it Jimmy Buss, the true, and perhaps undeserving, heir to his fathers throne? Or is it some sort of combination of the three? From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem that there is anybody who has the last word. There isn’t a captain of the ship. The Lakers have failed over and over again to close the deal with marquee players over the last 17 months. From Carmelo Anthony, to LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, or even their own talent like Dwight Howard and now Pau Gasol. It’s not a coincident. The Lakers are lost without their heart and soul, their leader, their captain.

From Bill Simmons:

He didn’t want Carmelo Anthony??? On the Lakers??? I surfed a few Lakers blogs and message boards and found similar ambivalence. Some fans wanted him, others didn’t understand the point. Many felt like the rationally irrational Lewis — they wanted the Lakers to land a top-five lottery pick (if it’s lower than that, it goes to Phoenix), wipe Nash’s expiring contract off their cap, then make a run at the Kevins (Love in 2015, Durant in 2016). That’s a smart plan, except (a) they could easily stink and STILL lose that 2015 lottery pick, (b) Love will probably get traded this season (and might like his new team), (c) nobody knows what Durant wants to do, and (d) nobody knows if the post–Dr. Buss Lakers are still a destination franchise.

It’s that last sentence that has been stuck in my mind for the past couple of seasons: Are the Lakers still a destination franchise in the post-Dr. Buss era?

Oct 8, 2013; Ontario, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss attends the game against the Denver Nuggets at Citizens Business Bank Arena. The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 90-88. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It has come to the surface of my brain on numerous occasions, mostly whenever the Lakers can’t close the deal and/or pick a direction in which to move. Mostly, it comes bubbling up whenever I hear the name “Jimmy Buss”.

The short answer to the question is yes; the Lakers are still a destination franchise. They have to be. The Lakers have won 16 championships, 11 in Los Angeles, play in the second biggest market in the country, and they play in one of the best cities in the world. There are endless marketing opportunities for superstars, they’re treated like kings, and the fans are some of the best and most loyal across any sport in the entire world. Who wouldn’t want to play in LA?

However, the Lakers, as currently constructed, are an organization without a heartbeat. They don’t have that special something that always put them over the top. Yup, it’s the lack of Dr. Buss. The Lakers are missing their puppeteer.

When it comes to making the right moves at the right time, and convincing superstars that Los Angeles is the place to be, the soft spoken gentleman in the corner with his Playboy bunnies isn’t there to say the perfect phrase at the right moment. The Lakers no longer have their closer. They’re an organization drifting in the wind. Their puppet master is gone.

In order for the Lakers to once again lure superstars and make Los Angeles a destination for the best and brightest, they’re going to need to find a leader. They’re going to need to find the man, or woman, who can string together that perfect phrase at the exact moment it’s needed. I can tell you one thing for certain: it’s not Jimmy Buss, nor is it Mitch Kupchak. Is it Jeanie Buss? Was it Phil Jackson, a man whom the Lakers couldn’t find a spot for? These are questions I can’t answer. But until the Lakers find a true leader, one with a bold vision and the determination and balls to execute it, without fear of failure, they’re going to be stuck in their current holding pattern.

No one wanted to step into the void Dr. Buss left. It was to big, it was too bright, they had too much respect for the man. However, Dr. Buss expected it to be filled. He left his son in charge; he groomed him to be a leader. He left Mitch Kupchak in charge to hold the young prince’s hand until he was ready to fly alone. He left Jeanie in charge of the business, if only to lessen the burden on his son. But Jimmy Buss never had the vision, never had the internal fortitude, never had the guts to pick a direction and sell it. He may be the heir to his father’s kingdom, but he’s not the man for the job. If the Lakers are to succeed in this new NBA landscape, they must follow another leader who’s ready to pick a lane and stay in it. Without a vision and without the courageousness to believe in it, the Lakers name and panache means nothing. Dr. Buss knew this better than anyone.

There is no way around it: The Lakers are an organization without a vision. Dr. Buss, you are sorely missed. The Lakers are at a loss without you.

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Tags: Dr. Jerry Buss Featured Jeanie Buss Jimmy Buss Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Mitch Kupchak Phil Jackson Popular

  • Mysterr Eeleven Thirtyfourr

    Lakers aren’t lost. Geez! What’s wrong with you people? Y’all act like Dr. Buss did more than make a couple of decisions here and there over the last 10 years. He’s dead, and the people he trained are in power. The same people 4 years remove do from back to back titles. The tap is the most profitable in the league, they’re not locked in cap room and luxury tax hell like a bunch of others. They were the team who pulled off a shocking trade for Chris Paul, on the way to pairing him with Dwight and Kobe, before the league owners erupted with jealous you and reversed it. So what did the hey f o? Cry? No! They still shockingly turned Andrew Bynum into Howard and paired him with Nash, Bryant, and Gasol, were all at the top of the heir games the previous season. A team suddenly the popular favorites for the title, before they were decimated by injuries starting with the 2nd game of the season through the last two years. So besides a couple of failed coaching hires… Jim and Jeannie have done GREAT jobs while trying to adjust and deal with the loss of their father. So everyone not named Dallas, Miami, and San Antonio needs to shut up. because those are THE ONLY champions since the Lakers last reigned.

  • Erad

    On your last point Dallas was a complete fluke and the only team of that lot to not make more than one Finals appearance.

    To your main point I could’ve done a better job at convincing Dwight to stay than the Lakers did. #stay? That was a joke.

    This year we’re going to have a 36 year old who hasn’t played in a total of games reaching the double digits since tearing his Achilles be the highest paid player in the league. I know the Kool-Aid is tasty but be careful not to ingest too much of that

  • Mysterr Eeleven Thirtyfourr

    There you go with more hyperbole. If you think #stay was the extent of the Lakers pitch to Dwight, or the reason he didn’t stay… then There’s no talking to you. Who cares how old Kobe is? Who cares how many games he’s played since he was injured? He hasn’t played in a year and a half? Good! That means he’s had plenty of rest, recovery, and time to train. The bottom line is now he’s 100%. People been saying he’s should be a shadow of himself since he turned 30. If he couldn’t play like himself, he wouldn’t play at all. So those thinking he’s about to come back playing like some sub all star are gonna be way disappointed.

  • Erad

    I’m sorry, what exactly did the Lakers do besides those pathetic billboards? Offer him his own tv show?

    Whoop-dee-do!

    They didn’t show the door to that ridiculous guard/shooting coach they had masquerading as their head coach and they didn’t muzzle Kobe despite the worst injury of his career.

    “Line up behind me and let’s win championships?” Yeah, great pitch. Nothing wrong with its timing at all. End of the day, Kobe should’ve been nowhere near that meeting.

    If the front office had any sense they would’ve centered the franchise around Dwight. Now if Kobe hadn’t suffered that injury that would be one thing. But on one hand you’ve got the best 5 in the league on the other you’ve got an all time player whose future is a COMPLETE unknown.

    Nothing — NOTHING — the Lakers have or had should’ve taken precedence over Dwight. He was the singular player on their roster who was primed to play at a top 10 level the following season (led the league in rebounding that year even though he was injured).

    It’s like they think Kobe is the future of the franchise. Give him a statue when he retires. It was good enough for the other 5-time champion guard the Lakers had, should be good enough for Kobe too. Just don’t handicap the damn franchise.

    I swear it’s like Laker fans are worse than North Koreans with their level of propaganda buy-in. Kobe played in what 6 games last year?

    Yeah, you can TRY the glass half full, “he’s more rested” approach, but fact of the matter is that nothing he or the front office is saying is worth half a damn until he proves his body will hold up over the course of a season. Worst of all, with this roster the only way this team would ever be competitive is if he plays 70+ games at a high level.

    Call me a pessimist but I’m going to take the over on that bet. The Lakers are looking at at least five years of bottom dwelling and they have themselves to blame for it.

  • Mysterr Eeleven Thirtyfourr

    Apparently, you didn’t watch any Lakers games that year. Kobe isn’t the future, but he was then, and still is… the present. When the best shooting guard in the league… (and it wasnt even close that year) is coming of one of the best seasons of his career (even at age 34), has 5 championships (two seasons removed from his most recent), is asking you… a player who is coming off one of his worst statistical seasons, has no titles, to allow him to teach you the secrets he learned from an 11 time NBA coach on how to win titles… YOU SAY YES!!! Unless you’re really a person who has insecuritis about pressure, has an inflated ego, a false sense that you’re a go to scorer, and are afraid of people who are serious about winning, because you’re a clown… Well then you should flee to Houston, because you instead have the audacity to ask that team to Amnesty literally the franchise icon, bread and butter fan favorite, and it’s best player who was last seen carrying you. A player who was last seen making two must have free throws in crunch time of a game you had to have to make the playoffs… with no freaking Achilles tendon on his ankle, while knowing you were last seen getting tossed from the game on a stupid play, in a playoff elimination game where you were the team leader. GTFOH…. Dwight could never haver been man enough to lead the Lakers… He can’t even lead the Rockets with no pressure, after saying that’s what he liked. It takes more than talent to win chips.

  • Erad

    Look no one is taking away from Kobe’s career or even all of what he accomplished in 2013. Yes, Kobe single handedly put the Lakers on his back that year and threw them into the playoffs. (Back then you even had a bunch of morons crediting D’Antoni with that 28-12 run to close out the year).

    That said, now he is a complete unknown, present and future. If your Dwight would you rather stay and learn “championship secrets” from a guy who may not even be able to stay on the floor next year or go to Houston and be a perennial contender in a much more fun environment?

    The sad thing that Laker fans can’t see or accept is that Dwight made the RIGHT choice! You guys continuously fail to see that the onus is on the team to keep the franchise player, not the other way around.

    Do I hate him or Houston any less because of that? No. But Coach Pringles time and again has shown his inability to coach anyone over 6’8″ who doesn’t camp out on the perimeter. I wouldn’t have wasted another damn second of my prime playing under him anyway.

    Oh and those career low numbers you mentioned? Maybe you’ve forgotten but Dwight had multiple injuries that year, a bad shoulder, his back and he STILL led the league in rebounding while averaging 18 a game. But no one ever likes to mention those injuries. The Lakers knew what shape he was in when they traded for him and he STILL was the best overall 5 in the game that year.

    Look, conversing with you I can see you’re too intelligent to truly believe that Dwight’s championship aspirations in Houston are over. It took Shaq/Kobe 4 years and Phil Jax to get to their first ring. What, Dwight and Harden are supposed to do that in their first season?

    Laker fans, the front office, even the team around Dwight just wanted Dwight to come in, be happy to be here, shut up and take Kobe’s scraps. Pretty shitty deal for a top 5 player. Everyone isn’t Pau Gasol, especially when you’re not winning.

    (On that note the Lakers were down 0-3 to the Spurs, Dwight didn’t get ejected in an elimination game, he got ejected in an elimination formality. The series was long over at that point).

    Also, I think you are badly underestimating the severity if that Achilles tear. Imagine if we had amnestied Kobe (oh no! We would’ve missed out on the 6 games he actually played that year). He heals. We bring over Chris Paul who was ours in the first damn place. We bring Kobe back the following season.

    THAT’S a squad. That’s the opportunity we had. That’s the kind of vision I used to expect from this franchise. Instead our second best player is now Jeremy Lin.

    Kobe is not Jesus Christ. Smart franchises know when it’s time to switch gears. Shaq won 3 Finals MVPs in 3 seasons but two years later when he and Kobe fell out for good, he wasn’t the player the Lakers chose. So you give Kobe maybe 30 mil for 2 seasons and a statue for when he retires. But no.

    The current state of the Lakers is pathetic, just truly pathetic. There’s no vision. No leadership. I no longer see anything about them to believe in. I’m interested to see how Julius Randle will develop this year but that’s about it.

    I’d bet you $1,000 that next year’s free agency won’t go ANY better for the Lakers than this one did. That “message” they sent to other star players in the league with Kobe’s ‘thank you’ contract fell on deaf ears. The franchise is a laughingstock. No one’s impressed by sh*tty cap management.

    You will never see either Kevin, Love or Durant, in a Laker jersey. The shows over for the foreseeable future, but it’s okay because the Lakers are still the most profitable franchise in the league with their comcast contract and that’s what really matters to them these days.

    Best we can hope for is that the league pays us what it owes us for Chris Paul and delivers a top 5 (or higher) draft pick. Otherwise, after this already doomed season our draft pick will go to Phoenix. These are the new Lakers