It is the exit. Finally. The last attempt by Jim Buss to save his fledgling basketball career has failed. He was unable to cut his sister out of the family executive coffers and put himself in. He has been removed as a trustee and his younger sister Janie has taken his place. He has no power. He is one of six Buss children who own the team and collect dividends, nothing more, nothing less. He has no say in the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles Lakers. Jeanie has been installed as the controlling owner until her death. He lost. It is over.
The man who hired Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson and Byron Scott has no one to blame but himself and his colossal ego. Jim famously predicted the Lakers would not just be back in the playoffs in the third year of his tenure, they would be contenders. It would be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous and if all of Los Angeles didn’t hate Jim Buss.
But if you give Jim Buss the benefit of the doubt you can say he was human and like all humans he made a lot of errors. His biggest error was in not communicating with his sister since she was his boss. She had absolute power over him so what exactly kept him from doing what it takes to keep her happy so he could stay employed?
The Lakers have always trafficked in family. From their inception they were a family business that created bonds with other families. Those families spread across the city supported the organization through thick and thin.
By her own admission, Jeanie admits her basketball knowledge is still in development. She leaned on Phil Jackson and her father. Both are gone. Unable to trust her own brother, she was left out in the cold. There was a role to play for Jim Buss but he turned his back and forced her to do what she eventually had to do to save her father’s beloved organization.
It’s hard to feel sorry for Jim Buss.
Let’s revisit. The deal Jim struck with his sister Jeanie who is in charge of hiring and firing was that he was on a three year clock that began in 2014-15 when the Lakers won 21 games. For their miserable failure they were rewarded with D’Angelo Russell.
“This is my job. I am part owner of the team but I’m also the president. The Buss family is the majority owner but we have other partners as well who are also shareholders and I have an obligation to them. Would I make those changes? Yes. My brother understands that we have to continue to strive for greatness and I think he would be the first one to feel that he would need to step down if he can’t get us to that point.” (Jeanie Buss, KPCC)
The strive for greatness that Jeanie is referring to is not part of the plan this season which will be a another no-playoff year, but a player development year, and possibly no lottery pick year (Philadelphia has the Lakers pick via the Steve Nash trade if the Lakers land outside the top three). It won’t be negligence and collapse as in years past but just a very young team learning how to play the NBA game.
The Lakers defense is atrocious. They have no one to guard perimeter shooting. They have no one to guard drivers or three point specialists like Damian Lillard. Starting Nick Young meant the Lakers were willing to give up points in bunches from shooting guards. Timofey Mozgov wasn’t the statue Roy HIbbert was, but he was only marginally better. Ivica Zubac is a nice draft surprise, a young skilled talent at the center position with soft hands and a nice in the lane jumper. Brandon Ingram is a work in progress. He has shown glimpses and then he has been just awful. Jordan Clarkson is the scorer every team needs but will never be a consistent 20+ player; he’s a bench guy. Julius Randle is tough and versatile but still has no jumpshot to make defenses respect him. D’Angelo Russell is feast or famine and he rarely runs pick and rolls in late game situations. The Lakers often play selfishly.
If the Lakers get the #1 pick and select Lonzo Ball, Russell may be on the trading block.
With an organizational strategy that can’t distinguish left from right, up from down, there was no other option for Jeanie than to jettison her brother to Siberia or wherever he lands after another sad season. Kobe Bryant is long gone so the blame game shifted entirely onto Jim Buss in 2016-17.
The Lakers current image of ineptitude was only furthered along by the LaMarcus Aldridge people two summers ago who basically called the Lakers clueless, self absorbed, ineffective and out of touch.
The last part is the most compelling reason that Jim Buss had to go. On life support, desperately sucking oxygen, the Lakers are nearing catastrophic levels of failure. Jim Buss had never built a reputation based upon relationships and because he has a level of social sickness when it comes to modern athletes and their needs, motivations, desires, thoughts and hopes, he entered meetings like someone who just landed from a different planet.
Players want to be connected to the organization they are playing for, they want emotional reciprocity and to actually have some warm feelings for the people in charge. Jeanie Buss is incredibly popular and warm and sensitive to players needs but she doesn’t have the basketball background to sell a free agent on their specific role on the team. But as we have seen in the past three years, neither did Jim Buss.
Clearly, Dr. Jerry Buss had a talent that his son Jim didn’t inherit nor did he try to emulate him. Dr. Buss was a bold, intelligent, pulled himself out of Wyoming thinker. When he became a millionaire he was the exception to the rule. He had no basketball experience when he bought the Lakers but he was a chemist and a gambler, he relied on linear thinking and on instinct. He had a strategy as well as a feel for the game. When he died the organization died with him.
And yet, in a stroke of luck, the Lakers had one last lob pass to make, to fill the void that Jerry Buss left behind. Jim Buss fumbled that one too for ego reasons and he pissed a couple of players off. He cut off Phil Jackson and at the same time found a way to humiliate Jackson and enrage his sister in the process.
And even after all that Jim still had a drowning man card to play once Jeanie made Magic her adviser. He could have changed tactics and appealed to his sister. He could say he was out of touch, dead wrong with his Lakers predictions. He could have thrown himself onto the mercy of the Jeanie court and say he didn’t realize it takes a long time to develop players and that some of the players you develop never turn into what you think. He could have begged that this will be fixed and he needed one more shot. But not this year. He could say that by hiring Luke Walton he has changed the culture. He could finally have admitted the Lakers are rebuilding in hopes that Jeanie went for it. He could have told her she and Magic would be a part of all decision making matters in the future.
Yes, he could have done that. Begged. Pleaded. Sobbed. But then he wouldn’t be Jim Buss. Unrepentant. Unaccountable. Sneaky. He played the ruthless card and tried to oust his sister from her job. He tried to get her thrown out the building. Like all his moves, it bombed.
But the good news is that the Lakers used to be the Titanic, stuck at the bottom of the ocean, buried because of their own incompetence, breathing but barely and now they are not. Now the Lakers can inhale and exhale because Jim Buss left the building. They actually have a plan. The Magic Johnson Process. But it doesn’t change the look. There are a multitude of reasons Jim Buss ran this impressive ship into an iceberg. He was looking the wrong way. He had the wrong priorities. He was clueless. But, as these things often go, there is a small sliver of light at the end of this bruising, cataclysmic tunnel. The Lakers have young talent. And Jim Buss is gone.
photo via llananba