For well over 50 years the Los Angeles Lakers were basketball royalty. They had one of the strongest brands, not just in sports, but in the world. But mark my words, the Lakers will never win another championship.
The Lakers were once the epitome of success, having won 16 championships. They only missed the playoffs 5 times prior to the 2013-2014 season. The Lakers were the closest thing to perfection in professional sports. However, their 60 year run of success has come to an end. Ownership woes trickles down onto the court.
First, to understand how this avalanche of misery began, we have to understand the success the Lakers have had.
In 68 seasons, they have made the playoffs 61 times along with 16 championships. Seeing all-time NBA greats like Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant compete on a nightly basis, without a doubt, was a testament to their success. However, sometimes it’s the people in the background that keep things in order. In this case, it was Dr. Jerry Buss who purchased the team in 1979 and was the sole owner of the team.
Dr. Buss wasn’t a meddling owner and his hands off approach enabled the Lakers to reach the peak of their success. But when he passed the team to his kids, Jim and Jeanie, he unknowingly doomed the franchise that he worked so hard to build. This created a power struggle between the two siblings.
Imagine having two presidents in office. Ultimately, that style of leadership is inefficient, and creates a power struggle. This is the case with Lakers ownership.
In the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers got off to a slow 1-4 start and fired head coach Mike Brown. Of the coaches available to replace Brown, Phil Jackson loomed large. It was an easy choice. An 11 time world champion coach who also won five titles with the Lakers.
But Jim Buss and management elected to hire Mike D’Antoni instead. Jim Buss didn’t do this to take an immature swipe at his sister. Jim Buss hired D’Antoni to prove that he had the basketball acumen to run the team and he didn’t need his sister meddling. Buss knew hiring D’Antoni over Jackson wasn’t going to go over well with the fans but he wanted to prove to the fans that D’Antoni was the better choice. If this worked out, the fans wouldn’t question him again.
The Mike Brown hire led to the second step in the Lakers demise which was Jeanie Buss publicly calling out her brother, stating that “the organization betrayed Phil Jackson”. She was not happy with the way her brother ran the coaching search.
Jim Buss obviously made the wrong coaching hire. However, releasing to the media the friction between Jeanie and her brother and the obvious distrust was harmful. The real reason Jeanie publicly called out her brother was self-serving. She wanted the fans on her side. She wanted them to think she should run the team, not her brother.
The third step in the demise of the Lakers was Jim Buss’ proclamation that the Lakers would be contenders within three years. Jim Buss’ promise to bring the Lakers back in contention was a broken one. Why? Because Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any legitimate contender takes at least 5 years to ascend from bottom of the conference to legitimate contender.
When the OKC Thunder were the Seattle Supersonics, they drafted Kevin Durant in 2007, Russell Westbrook in 2008 and James Harden in 2009. They finally made the playoffs in 2010 and didn’t become a legitimate championship contender until 2011.
The Golden State Warriors drafted Stephen Curry in 2009, Klay Thompson in 2011 and Draymond Green in 2012 and signed Andre Igoudala in 2013. They didn’t reach contender status until 2014. They didn’t make the playoffs until the 2012-2013 season.
We’ll be a contender in three years was Jim Buss trying to save his job. Jim Buss’ goal shouldn’t be to boost his approval ratings. His entire focus should be to win a championship. But because he made this promise, Jim bought in players that didn’t fit a rebuilding roster, such as signing Lou Williams, to a three year deal when the Lakers drafted a point guard with the number two overall pick in 2015 (D’Angelo Russell). Or signing Brandon Bass when they drafted Julius Randle in last year’s draft. Or, cutting Robert Upshaw, a first round talent who went undrafted, while keeping 36 year old Metta World Peace on the roster.
Finally, agents talk, players talk. When they see the toxic situation in Los Angeles where the two owners are in a struggle, and there seems to ne no clear direction from an operations stand point, they are going to be wary. This in turn means the Lakers will keep getting rejected by every free agent. Look at the pattern: Dwight in 2013, Carmelo in 2014, LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.
The Lakers need to decide who is running this team, and if they don’t, they will never win another championship.
photo via llananba