So now we know.
Jim Buss, Lakers Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations, made it clear where he stands on Kobe Bryant’s 20th season. He sees it as Kobe’s final farewell, a swan song, a serenade. Good for him. But, getting Kobe to agree to Buss’ grand exit see you later plan however is a whole different ball of wax. If nothing else, Kobe Bryant is unpredictable.
As if they were born into different families, Jim Buss has very different views than his sister Jeanie Buss who just happens to be…oops….his boss. Jeanie has said repeatedly that she wants Kobe Bryant to be a member of the Lakers for as long as he wants to be, no exceptions, no small fine print.
But Jim? Not so fast.
He was asked by the Los Angeles Times what he expected from Kobe this season and he started off by saying all of the right things.
“I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘This is it Kobe, you’re done’ because it’s not my decision. It’s his decision. The man has done so much for the Lakers and the fans of the Laker nation…”
Yes, and he has filled Jim Buss’ bank account many times over. The Time Warner $3 billion dollar television deal was only possible because Kobe was still on the roster. Kobe makes the Lakers jerseys relevant, drops the franchise in the midst of headlines when their prospects for excellence are dim. Kobe sells tickets in Los Angeles and on the road and is a spectacular draw whenever he is overseas. So, Jim Buss was only speaking the truth.
And then he had to do it. He went all Jim Buss on everyone.
“He just has to know, at that age, and that many miles on you, what is your role? We’ll explain the role and if he still wants to do that and that’s how he wants to go out, that’s fine with me.”
Oh, I get it. You tell Kobe his role is 10 minutes a night off the bench and if he still wants to accept your crumbs, who are you to argue? C’mon Jim. We get what this is about. You want this last year of Kobe Bryant. You want the era over and it makes perfect sense. Kobe blocks out the sun and the moon and his personality being what it is, controlling him is a little difficult. You recede in the background. You are not the star of the show. Sure, Kobe is not bigger than the Lakers franchise of excellence but he is pretty damn close to the top of the Lakers food chain. Unlike Magic and Kareem and Elgin and Wilt, Kobe has benefited from the culture of social media which feeds his mythology and keeps him relevant and spins his failures while swooning over his triumphs.
A problem is looming though. What if Kobe has a good year? Great years are in his rearview mirror but there is a percentage, small as it may be but still a percentage, that he has a good year. He started last season with a torn shoulder, now that is fixed. HIs knee is fixed. His Achilles is fixed. What if he has a throwback year, then what? Do you still shut the door?
Lingering in the weeds is the reality that Jim doesn’t hold all the cards which probably sucks knowing your sister can pull the rug out from under you at any given moment. Jeanie loves Kobe. She is responsible for his absurd $25 million contract. She has the final say. She trumps Jim and she trumps Mitch Kupchak. In this, in all things Kobe, Jeanie is a conduit for her father Dr. Jerry Buss whom she believes- it doesn’t matter if she is wrong- would want Kobe in a Lakers uniform until he needs a cane. But how committed is she to that point of view?
As for Kobe, taking all this in stride is something that is part of his mercurial nature, no different than putting up 15 foot shoots in an empty gym, or reflecting on his relationship with Shaq, or laughing at how star struck teammate D’angelo Russell is. Such is the life. Kobe concentrates on the now. The future will play itself out, one way or another. But, it wouldn’t be farfetched for Buss to push Kobe Bryant so far out the Los Angeles door he ends up across the country and into the waiting arms of Phil Jackson and Madison Square Garden.
photo via Wikipedia.org