Does the promise shown by Coach Luke Walton and the Lakers’ young core absolve Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak for three years of losing, the sort of streak Jeanie Buss says her father “just wouldn’t have tolerated”? For those three years, Jeanie Buss has honored her brother’s timeline. “That’s what he said, so I have to give him his time,” she said. “I have to.” It’s a pledge that might prove to be Jim Buss’ undoing. Reached by the Southern California News Group last week, he said he “wasn’t referring to a certain playoff position” and that the deadline “really wasn’t as clear as people say it is.” “This was quotes from three or four years ago,” he said. “Those were what the path was supposed to be.”
Buss is the business whiz behind the branding and sponsorships of the Lakers, the keeper of the glamour franchise she and her five siblings inherited when their father, Jerry Buss, died in February 2013. Her fingerprints are on the reported $3 billion television deal with Spectrum SportsNet and the 120,000-square foot practice facility the team will move into next season. She is admired by executives throughout sports and entertainment. “Everything you look for in a CEO, she has,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said.
Jim Buss said injuries and the Kobe Bryant farewell tour derailed what her were otherwise reasonable expectations. He now believes in a different measuring stick. “If I feel that the strides have been made,” Jim Buss said, “and the team is going in a very positive – not just a positive direction – a very positive direction, I don’t see a switch happening.” The two most prominent Buss siblings agree that the season needs to play out before any decisions can be reached. “We’re like every other team that we will play a season and we will assess that season when it’s over,” Jeanie Buss said. “No reason to speculate on any possible changes. It’s a waste of time to speculate.”
Buss is the figurehead of a family enterprise. She leans heavily on those she trusts, but ultimately, she is the boss. One way or another, her fingerprints will soon be all over the team that takes the court at Staples Center. “I think she understands that she has to make decisions that are important for the future of the franchise, for the growth of the franchise,” said Jerry West, who ran the Lakers front office alongside Kupchak until the summer of 2000 and is currently an executive board member with the Golden State Warriors. “She knows she has to do that. And I don’t think she’d be afraid to do that.”
While some owners hide out in suites, or are escorted to their seats by a ring of beefy security dudes, Buss is among the people, honoring requests for selfies, just another fan who loves the home team. “She’s not wearing a big crown that says, ‘I’m the owner of the Lakers,’” said Tim Harris, the Lakers chief operating officer. “She’s sitting there saying, ‘You want to come up and talk to me? I’m sitting here, season ticket holder in Section 117.’”
Buss projects an image of comfort, speaking a language that is easily understood. She is someone you feel you would trust with something you love. “She is very, very kind and very, very nice,” said Shell, who was an executive at Fox when the broadcasting giant held the Lakers television rights, “but she can be tough in business. In the business world, if you try to take advantage of that kindness, you’ll see a tough side to Jeanie that she also has.”
Walton has visited Buss’ office at least a dozen times, she said, a dramatic shift from the distance kept by Byron Scott and Mike D’Antoni. The strain was palpable after the Lakers made the surprising, 11th-hour hire of D’Antoni in 2012 when Jackson was anticipating an offer. “I have the ultimate faith in Luke Walton,” she said. “I think he brings the joy of the game, and when you see players play with that joy and that competitiveness, that’s what you fall in love with. He’s just brought all of that.”
Of course, Jackson is in New York but it remains to be seen for how long, where he goes and if its colors are purple and gold. Jackson and his fiance, Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss, both deny it’s happening. That’s absolutely true ... as far as it goes ... until Phil’s opt-out on July 1, 2017, with insiders close to both saying he could still wind up with the Lakers.
Not that Jackson is sitting around thinking about the Lakers at present with ore immediate challenges, like sticking it to everyone who says he can’t do his present job. Like all issues involving free agency, Phil’s availability will depend on the last thing that happens this season. The Knicks’ finish will decide if owner Jim Dolan is happy paying Jackson $12 million annually, which will decide if Phil feels like staying. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, the situation is fluid.
(Actually, it’s unlikely that Kupchak, who worked easily with Jackson, would have objected to something ownership wanted to do. If Jim didn’t want Phil, it was because of his own issues with him.) Stung as Jeanie was, she wasn’t then inclined to fight Jim, knowing her father didn’t want an inter-organizational struggle. Instead, she took Jim up on his off-hand vow to leave if he couldn’t get the team back in two years – which she took to mean making the Western Conference finals by this season – or in other words, so long, Jimbo!
The Los Angeles Lakers announced today the hirings of Jennifer Swanson as Head Physical Therapist, Stacey Robinson as Massage Therapist, and Sean Light as Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. The trio will report to Head Athletic Trainer Marco Nuñez, joining Assistant Athletic Trainer Nina Hsieh, Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim DiFrancesco, and Equipment Manager Carlos Maples on the training staff.
The team has also hired Lorena Martin as Director of Sports Performance Analytics and Jae Kim as Basketball Data Analyst, both of whom will report to Director of Basketball Analytics Yuju Lee.
The team also hired Joshua Wright as Assistant to the Head Coach, reporting to Head Coach Luke Walton.
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 16, 2022 | 7:52 pm EDT Update
“Who’s talking about what kind of pressure?” Doncic joked when asked about the Slovenia national team’s goal and explain that he is aiming for the top again: “We are going to Germany to win gold. In every competition where we compete, the goal must always be the first place. We will do everything for it, but we will see if we make it. In 2017, no one took us seriously when we announced our attack on the gold medal, today is different. It’s nice when you see that everyone will make an extra effort against us to win”.
Stefan Bondy: Re: Brunson tampering investigation, heard at least one Knicks employee had cell confiscated by NBA. Something else I learned: players have never turned in devices and won’t unless it’s CBA bargained. Union won’t stand for that. Rightfully so. Agents also don’t turn them in.
“It was just guys who knew their roles,” Cuban said. “Like an Andrew Wiggins. I think he was the one who beat us, and I told him that after the series. We knew what to expect from Klay and from Steph and from Draymond. We didn’t know what to expect or how Wiggs would step up, and he did.”
Apparently, Cuban was already in deep discussions with then-Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss about a potential blockbuster deal: “I was going back and forth with Dr. Buss, and I forgot who called who, I think he called me, actually, and said, ‘Look, we think we might be parting ways with Kobe,’” Cuban said. As it turns out, however, the deal “all fall apart” when Cuban told a Lakers PR guy named Elvis about it. Word quickly spread and Cuban believes Mitch Kupchak ended up convincing Kobe to stay in LA.
Cuban made it abundantly clear that he believed they were already at the finish line: “I thought it was done,” he reiterated. “I thought it was done, yeah. Done. Done. Done. Like, let’s start talking about putting together the trade call.”
August 16, 2022 | 5:44 pm EDT Update
Another offseason, another summer of trade rumors. That had Tyler Herro offering a resigned smile Tuesday at a Miami Heat back-to-school event at Target at Dadeland Station. “I mean, every summer, that’s just what it is,” Herro said after helping a group of youths fill their back-to-school carts. “I mean, ever since I’ve been here, my name’s been in rumors. So rumors, like I said last summer, they don’t bother me. I’m just getting ready for this season and whether I’m on the Heat or somewhere else, I’m getting ready for the season.”