An ominous cloud looms over the Lakers, however. Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss said in 2014 he would step down if the Lakers do not become a Western Conference contender in three years. Lakers president Jeanie Buss has often said she would hold the front office accountable with unspecified changes if that does not happen. All of which perpetuates uncertainty on if Kupchak’s focus on development could conflict with Jeanie Buss’ focus on results. “I’m not in a position to debate the stuff you talked about,” Kupchak said on Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara. “I’m not sure what was said with certainty. From my point of view, we’ve created a team that has a lot of young talent that can grow into really good NBA players that can leave an imprint on this league. I think we’ve surrounded them with older veterans to help us win games. I’m excited about our coaching staff.”
The Lakers acquired some intriguing veteran, including a rim protector (Timofey Mozgov), a versatile forward (Luol Deng) and steady point guard (Jose Calderon). Yet, who knows how much any of those players can both produce and mentor as much as the Lakers hope they do. “I want to see improvement in the young players,” Kupchak said. “I want to see some production from our rookies and I want our team to be fun to watch. I want them to have fun playing. I want them to get better as the season goes along. But I don’t know how that translates into anything else under my control.”
According to team and league sources, despite how the torch-passing was presented to media and fans, Jerry did not have deep confidence in Jim as a basketball visionary or even someone with the grit to stay in charge of Lakers personnel for the long haul.
So Jim told people that Carmelo Anthony was coming the next summer. He told people that Howard was staying the previous year. He told people as soon as the Lakers' recent season was winding down that Kevin Durant was coming this summer…with Russell Westbrook the next.
But when Jackson started talking with the New York Knicks about being in charge of their basketball operations, the siblings scrambled not to lose him. That triggered a contentious email chain. Jim phoned some individually to lobby them to change their votes, according to team and league sources. Only Johnny, who had his own stretch of time not speaking to Jim, stood with Jim in opposition to hiring Jackson in some capacity.
The thing is, Jackson is legitimately committed to getting the Knicks on the upswing. As attractive as the prospects of molding Walton and helping Jeanie are—and how much more weight he has representing the Lakers teams he won with— the Lakers want Jackson more than he wants them.
Of course, there is another possibility the Busses discuss regularly, a guy who is practically family—Phil Jackson. He can opt out of his Knicks contract in a year, and he's believed to be able to get out of it the year after that, too. Despite Jackson's limited results in New York, he has served an obvious purpose for James Dolan, taking the heat off the owner by accepting it himself. That is something the Buss family has noticed as a worthwhile formula as they continue to take their hits, besides how useful Jackson might be recruiting free agents even if he doesn't do day-to-day work.
Bryant would have tremendous appeal as a high-ranking official, but he is focused on his own business pursuits. Magic Johnson has made clear his disdain for Jim and is extremely interested in having a meaningful role with the Lakers.
Jerry envisioned youngest sons Joey, 31, and Jesse, 28, having highly prominent roles at some point. Both are cited by team sources as smart and diligent in their current roles. They have a different mother than the four elder siblings—and a very different backstory. Joey and Jesse grew up in San Diego, far removed from their father's glamorous life, and they acted almost like two shy kids in awe when they got into it.
Jeanie Buss: People think that Phil is going to come back here to L.A. and it’s not true. He’s signed a five-year agreement. He is happy where he is. What I am getting from people in New York is that he’s just doing it for the money. Phil doesn’t do anything for the money. He’s completely devoted to this job.
Jeanie Buss: The NBA requires there to be one decision-maker. Every team has to have one designated governor who is held accountable for all decisions that are made on behalf of the organization. I am that person. I am held accountable also by our shareholders, the majority of whom are the Buss family, but we have other shareholders who own stock in the Lakers. Lakers basketball isn’t about any one style or any one system. Lakers basketball is about winning.
Jeanie Buss: All the years that my dad owned the team, we never missed out on the playoffs more than one year. And we are now at three years in a row. I want [brother Jim Buss, Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations and part-owner] to be successful. I want him to make the decisions that he is confident in making and putting the basketball team together the way he sees fit. You know, we have to give him that opportunity.
Bill Oram: Magic Johnson will no longer be listed in Lakers staff directory. His title had been strictly ceremonial https://t.co/ARs1eeAJhG
"Earvin will always be a revered and beloved member of the Lakers family, but he does not have a position or role with the organization at the time," Lakers spokesman John Black said in a statement. "He is not an adviser or a consultant, and his opinions, comments and social media posts are solely his, and do not represent or reflect those of Lakers ownership of management. Hopefully this will eliminate any confusion over this issue in the future."
Los Angeles Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss says that Phil Jackson, her fiancé and the president of the Knicks, will not be leaving New York to rejoin the Lakers. "No. To visit, yes ... but in terms of basketball, he's committed to New York for many years," Buss said Monday on ESPN Radio's Beadle and Shelburne Show. "He's building something there. He has a mission, he's on that journey to get the team back to where he believes it can be and it will be. He's a former Knick ... he loves New York, he loves the fans, he wants to make them proud."
Jackson has three seasons remaining on his five-year deal with the Knicks. Speculation about Jackson's potential return to Los Angeles will likely continue because his contract contains an opt-out clause after the 2016-17 season, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard.
"We talked about it as a family," Jeanie Buss said Monday of Jim Buss' stance. "My brother spoke about it publicly. It is something that I think he's very sincere in when he says that if he can't get this team to where we're competitive, being in the playoffs, second round, competing for the Western Conference final. He would feel that he isn't living up to the job that my father left to him, and he [Jim] made it clear if he couldn't do the job that he would step aside and make sure that somebody would come in and do that because that's how much he loves the Lakers. That's how much my family loves the Lakers."
The juggling act was so tough, he said, and something he thought that the Lakers front office had seen going into the season as well. In fact, he thought the two sides agreed when he was hired that it would take a few years to turn the team around. So when he was let go, he said he was “blindsided.” “But I have no ill-will for the organization,” he said. “I still love the Lakers organization and I wish them all the best.”
Jim Buss, part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, could well be gone next summer and so could Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. Could Phil Jackson return? Such questions loom heavy over the Lakers' future. "The number one thing is this," said one source familiar with both the Warriors and Lakers. "The Lakers are dysfunctional as an organization. A coach can't change this."
The source told SNY.tv that Ollie -- who led UConn to the 2014 NCAA championship -- would want at least some involvement in player personnel decisions with the Lakers. "He's gotta be involved in player personnel decisions," the source said. "Mitch Kupchak has to be willing to involve him in player personnel. He has to have a say-so in that."
The Lakers’ boss discussed the state of the Lakers at length with USA TODAY Sports in her visit on the NBA A to Z podcast recently, and this much is clear about the way she sees their world. There is no change to the timeline that Jim first shared in April of 2014, when he indicated that he would resign if the team wasn’t contending for a title by next season. Since then, it has become clear that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak would likely be part of this equation as well.
Translation: despite recent speculation that she might expedite the timeline in order to bring her fiancé, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, back to the Lakers, there is no such covert plan as it relates to next summer. Jackson signed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Knicks in March of 2014. “It really isn’t about trying to get him back here (to the Lakers),” Buss said. “He is happy with what he is doing, and he … is up for the (Knicks) challenge, and he’s seeing the results of the work that he’s put in. But he has a ways to go.”
August 9, 2022 | 6:25 pm EDT Update
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the meeting took place this past Saturday, and Kevin Durant indicated that he could stay with Brooklyn if general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash were no longer there. Understandably, peers of Marks and Nash were not happy. “I get that players have more power these days, but I think it’s a little too far if he’s out here trying to get Steve fired,” said one coach, who was quickly reminded of Magic Johnson’s fingerprints on Paul Westhead’s firing back in November of 1981 and other power plays, some of which may well have been justified.
The head of basketball ops from another club was similarly displeased. “Livid,” he said. “Livid. He and Kyrie (Irving) basically told Sean they were coming (as free agents in 2019), and Sean did pretty much everything they wanted after that. Signing DeAndre Jordan for four years? That’s something Kyrie and KD wanted. Getting James Harden? Then getting a guy who should be a perfect complement to them (Ben Simmons) when Harden wanted out? Sean did all that.”
However, when asked if he would welcome Durant to his own club should he be attainable at a fair price, the exec paused and laughed. “Well … ” he said. “OK, you got me there. But, see, that’s the part of this that will always be hard for some people to grasp. I’m talking about the fans who just see the players as employees. These guys are not interchangeable parts. You can’t just plug in someone else to do what KD does.”
Marc Stein: Dallas plans to hire former NBA swingman Marko Milič — Slovenia’s first NBA player — to join the coaching staff in player development, league sources confirm. Milič obviously knows Luka Dončić well and played with Jason Kidd in Phoenix. More NBA from me: marcstein.Substack.com
Detroit Pistons center Kelly Olynyk is a married man! The basketball star, 31, wed his longtime love Jackie McNulty, 31, in a traditional, yet playful, outdoor ceremony at Sunstone Winery in Santa Ynez, California Saturday, as personal guests of the winery’s owners.