Of course, it really wasn't a total surprise. The signs of decay were prevalent long ago, but many just chose to look away. One could argue that the only reason the Lakers have not crashed under Jim’s leadership earlier is because Phil Jackson's powerful presence intervened to save the franchise twice (in 1999 and 2005) from the consequences of the incompetence we are now becoming familiar with. Unfortunately since he has now left Los Angeles for the Big Apple, Jackson cannot be counted on to save the Lakers once again.
The demise of the Lakers really began when the venerable Dr. Jerry Buss concocted an unrealistic plan for his children to split his Lakers Empire with Jim Buss as the man in charge of basketball decisions. The problems inherent in this were touched on by a wonderfully foreshadowing article by Frank Lidz in the November 2, 1998 issue of Sports Illustrated. It has been clear for a long time that Jim Buss (1) was very eager to take over for his father; and (2) was going to be a very poor owner.
Lidz’s article is revealing, especially when seen in the light of wisdom available to us from a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .
THE JIM BUSS TIMELINE
November 9, 1959 -1980. The Jim Buss Wonder Years.
Jim Buss is born, the second of four children to Dr. Jerry Buss and Joan Buss. He has an older brother John and will later have two younger sisters, Jeanie and Janie. The couple ends up divorcing in 1972 and Dr. Buss eventually has two other children from another relationship.
Jim attends USC and majors in math. Unlike his father, who received a PhD in Chemistry before purchasing the Lakers, Jim drops out without even a bachelor’s degree. (Jeanie later graduates from USC with honors).
Later young Jimmy, who spent a lot of his youth at the race track, decides to attend jockey school even though he is six feet two inches tall. Unsurprisingly, a career as a jockey was not in the cards.
“Jimmy is easily distracted and has no instinct for the jugular. Jeanie is the most capable one, yet she is overlooked by her loving dad.” – A longtime Jerry Buss business associate
"Wonderful the mind of a child is." - Yoda
1981-1997. The Pre-Lakers Work History of Jim Buss
Jim Buss opens a small business with his best friend, Bill Goldenberg. After Goldenberg’s tragic death in a car accident, Buss lets the business fade.
In 1985, Jim takes over for his brother John as president of his dad’s indoor soccer team, the Los Angeles Lazers. Despite his best efforts, the team folds in 1989.
In 1990, Jim Buss became a horse trainer and his father gives him six thoroughbreds to work with. Track insiders question his dedication and indicate he generally just shows up when he wants to. In 1997, Dr. Jerry Buss divests himself of his increasingly unprofitable horse stock and asks his son Jim to come work for the Lakers.
“[John and Jim] would love to run my father’s operation but I don’t think they could.”- Janie Buss
“Try? Do or do not. There is no try.”- Yoda
1998. Jim Buss Starts Working for the Lakers
Jim begins working with the Lakers as an apprentice to GM Jerry West and his assistant Mitch Kupchak. Within a year, he figures he pretty much knows what he needs to know. For entitled men like Jim, who have suspect work habits and have never really succeeded at anything by the time they are almost forty, a belief in shortcuts is necessary in order to assume leadership when you are unqualified. It is also a wonderful way to avoid taking a serious look in the mirror.
“Right now my dad is Number 1 in the Lakers organization, and I’m Number 4. After another year of apprenticeship, I’d feel comfortable going from 4 to 1.” Jim Buss in 1998 during his first year working for the Lakers.
“A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind…All his life has he looked away…Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.” – Yoda
July 2000. Jerry West Quits as Lakers GM
After the Lakers win their first NBA Title since 1988, the perpetually underpaid and underappreciated Jerry West resigns and is replaced by Mitch Kupchak. The resignation is motivated partly by Dr. Buss’s desire to entrust full power into the hands of his clearly-not-ready son Jim, who he blindly believes can somehow be molded into a basketball mind like West.
“Jeez! Jerry West is like a god. It’s hard to think of him and Jimmy in the same sentence.” – Janie Buss
July 1999 - June 2004. A New Hope: Phil Jackson Comes To Los Angeles
Phil Jackson begins his first tenure as Lakers Head Coach. His strong personality and impeccable resume give the Lakers credibility once again. Jackson eventually leads the Lakers to 3 NBA Championships and 4 NBA Finals appearances within the next five years. He also begins dating Jim’s sister, Jeanie Buss, in 2000.
After five extremely successful seasons, Phil Jackson steps down/is fired as Lakers head coach. Although his health and the Shaq-Kobe feud are contributing factors, Jackson is also just tired of butting heads with Lakers management and the increasingly annoying input of Jim Buss, who some speculate is pushing his father to fire Jackson and hire Rudy Tomjanovich. Despite his great success, Lakers management appears happy that Jackson is leaving and offer him no future role in the organization. Jim is chomping at the bit to start running basketball operations.
“Don’t everyone thank me at once.” – Han Solo
“I always wanted to be a G.M. With a colt, you watch his stride and how he pops to extension. I just have to learn the qualities to look for in humans.” – Jim Buss
June 2004. Rudy T gets hired.
After Shaq is traded and Kobe re-signs, Jim Buss is given increasing control over the team despite his apparent ignorance about the sport of basketball. Excited to finally put his personal imprint on the team, he is the one who selects the next head coach of the Lakers. He signs Rudy Tomjanovich to a five-year, $30 million contract.
Jim's first major move ends in failure: Tomjanovich quits midway through the season citing exhaustion and the Lakers finish 34-48, missing the playoffs for only the second time in thirty years.
“Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, farm boy.” – Han Solo
June 14, 2005. The Zen Master Returns
Despite the Lakers having an incredibly weak roster and very little hope of competing for a title, Phil Jackson benevolently returns to the team. Fans are overjoyed and his very presence stabilizes a franchise that looked headed for the toilet. On his first day back, the Zen Master mockingly tells Jim that while he (Jackson) will be at the office in the morning, he knows Jim won’t be. True to form, Jim basically continues to show up at the office whenever he feels like it and keeps no regular schedule.
Jackson meanwhile, immediately raises the team from horrible to respectable and they make the playoffs the next two years. In 2008, Mitch Kupchak trades for Pau Gasol and the Lakers appear in the NBA Finals the next three years, winning the title two times.
“Jim Buss is not around much…the only time he is here consistently is a week or two before the draft.”- Ronnie Lester, former Lakers Assistant GM, scout, and player.
June 28, 2005. The Andrew Bynum Pick
Prior to the 2005 NBA Draft, Lakers scout Ronnie Lester brings 17-year old Andrew Bynum to the team’s attention and Jim Buss falls in love with him. Jim pushes hard for Bynum’s selection in the first round and the Lakers end up picking him. This might be the highlight of Jim Buss’ professional career. Through the years, Jim is Bynum’s biggest supporter and he repeatedly pushes back trade demands for him.
"Great shot kid, now don't get cocky!" - Han Solo
May 2011. Phil Jackson Retires
Jackson retires after the Lakers are eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. His relationship with Jim Buss has almost completely deteriorated at this point. Jackson publicly comments that he had not spoken to Jim for the entire season.
Jim also appears increasingly resentful that Jackson has gotten so much of the credit for the Lakers success in the last twelve years. Although common sense suggests that Jackson would be offered an important front-office position with the Lakers, Jackson only acts as an “informal consultant” for the Lakers.
“You are on the Council, but we do not grant you the rank of master.” – Mace Windu
Now up until the end of the 2011 NBA season, Jim Buss can be seen as building up his educational and managerial experience, both outside of and within the organization, This is in preparation for his planned team takeover, per the directions of owner Dr. Jerry Buss. Jim has wanted total control of the basketball decisions (though not necessarily responsibility for those decisions), but has never been able to totally assert himself because of the presence of strong personalities like his father, Jackson, and even Kupchak (at that time).
However, with Jackson leaving again, and the declining health of his father, Jim is truly now totally in command. After this point, the major moves are unquestionably Jim’s responsibility.
This is true even though Jim consistently tries to misdirect criticism by declaring that any controversial decision is really coming from his father, Jerry.
May-June 2011. The Search for Jackson’s Replacement
Brian Shaw, Rick Adelman, and Mike Brown end up becoming the top candidates to replace Phil Jackson. Jerry Buss tells the new coaching candidates that Jimmy "is in control now and he has to let him make whatever decisions that he makes.” Jim then informs the head coaching candidates that Andrew Bynum must be given the ball inside more often by whomever is chosen as the next coach.
Brian Shaw is advised by Jackson to downplay his relationship to the former coach during the interview process as the Zen Master knows Jim doesn't like him. Nonetheless, Shaw states he felt he had to defend Phil Jackson after hearing Jim Buss “bashing” Phil several times during the job interview. This does not go over well with Jim.
“Anger, fear, aggression…the dark side are they.” - Yoda
June 2011. The Mike Brown Hire
In a move that perplexes almost everyone, Mike Brown is hired as head coach over Brian Shaw (Kobe’s choice) and Rick Adelman (Kupchak’s choice). He signs a 5-year deal for $20 million.
Shaw, who had worked 12 years for the Lakers as a player and assistant, was very close to Kobe Bryant and was familiar with Jackson’s successful triangle offense. Kobe Bryant is not told of the decision beforehand, angering the Lakers star. Shaw is also not contacted until weeks after the decision is made. Shaw, a well-regarded former player and coach by all accounts, publicly criticizes Lakers management over the way he was treated.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” – Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi
2011 NBA Lockout. Firing of Longtime Lakers Employees
Jim Buss fires over two dozen employees with over 100 years of experience working for the franchise.
Among these are: (1) athletic coordinator Alex McKechnie, who had worked for the Lakers for 12 years and was previously instrumental in extending the careers of Shaq and Grant Hill; and (2) lowly equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas, who had been with the team for 30 years. Both had the misfortune of being close to the retired Phil Jackson. The firings are articulated to be a cost-cutting measure even as the Lakers negotiate a $3.6 billion television deal.
Buss further cans the scouting staff, including International Scout Adam Fillippi and even highly respected Assistant GM Ronnie Lester, who had worked for the Lakers for 24 years, including as a player and scout. Lester states, “Great organizations don’t treat their personnel like they've done.”
Jim later hires Charles Osbournet, a former bartender friend he used to hang out with at the race track, to be on the scouting staff.
“Evaluating basketball talent is not too difficult. If you grabbed ten fans out of bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts.” – Jim Buss
“I have great admiration for what scouts do. If the job is so easy, then why do some teams always have more success than others.” – Jerry West, responding to Jim’s comment.
2011-2012 preseason. The Vetoed Chris Paul Trade; Alienation of Gasol and Odom
Before the season begins, the Lakers engineer a three-way trade that would have sent Pau Gasol to the Rockets and Lamar Odom to the Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul. However, Lakers management does not do its due diligence regarding NBA rules. They let the details go public before checking with NBA Commissioner David Stern whether the trade is acceptable to the NBA (the NBA owned the bankrupt Hornets at that time).
(*Fascinating to this day why nobody bothers to ask why Lakers management failed to understand they needed Stern’s approval in the first place. Not knowing something like that would qualify as malpractice in many other fields.)
Stern soon vetoes the deal, leaving Gasol and Odom, both known to be talented but moody, upset with the organization. Gasol’s production declines that season and Odom, the reigning NBA 6th Man of the Year, suggests he can no longer play for a team that does not value him.
Lakers management chooses neither to coddle Odom to return or simply demand he play. Instead, they essentially give in to Odom’s whimsical demand and trade him to the Dallas Mavericks for a trade exception and future first round pick.
The Lakers sorely miss Odom’s presence and suffer from Gasol’s inconsistent play during the 2011-2012 season and playoffs. The two-time defending champs finish with the 3rd seed in the West and are bounced in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-1.
March 15, 2012. Trade for Sessions and Trading Away Derek Fisher
During that same season, the Lakers trade Jason Kapono, Luke Walton, and their 2012 first round pick for point guard Ramon Sessions and forward Christian Eyenga. Eyenga never plays for the team and Sessions, after a mildly productive couple of months, is allowed to sign elsewhere.
The Lakers also trade Derek Fisher, a beloved player who was integral to the Lakers as the starting point guard on five NBA championship teams, and the first-round pick acquired from Dallas in the Odom trade, in exchange for forward Jordan Hill (a player who was originally drafted by the Knicks and clashed with then-Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni).
Management’s disloyal reasoning appears to be that the other point guards on the team, Sessions and Steve Blake, will somehow not flourish simply if Fisher, the most respected player in the locker room, is on the team.
Kobe Bryant, who: (1) began his career with Fisher when the two were Lakers rookies in 1996; (2) started in the backcourt with Fisher on all five of those championship teams; and (3) was closer to him than anyone else on the team; is once again angered by not being given a heads up about the move.
July-August 2012. The Nash and Howard Trades
On July 1, 2012, the Lakers use their trade exception from the Odom trade to acquire Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns and sign him to a three year deal for $27 million. In exchange they send the Suns two first round draft picks (2013 and 2015) and two second round picks (2013 and 2014).
Jim Buss is publicly given almost full credit for this deal by Mitch Kupchak.
On August 11, 2012, in a four team trade, the Lakers give up Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts, Eyenga, a conditional 2015 2nd round pick, and a conditional 2017 1st round pick, for Dwight Howard, Chris Duhon, and Earl Clark. Though Howard is in the final year of his contract, Lakers management expresses confidence that they will resign him. Howard is recovering from back surgery, but is expected to return by the season opener.
October 2012. The Mike Brown Firing
The Lakers start the season 1-4 (after losing all of their preseason games). Jim Buss publicly gives coach Mike Brown a vote of confidence…before the Lakers fire Brown a few days later.
Jim later states the decision was contemplated for a month prior, making the vote of confidence all the more bizarre. Brown’s guaranteed contract will have to continue to be paid off over the next few years.
After hearing Lakers fans chanting Phil Jackson’s name during home games, it suddenly occurs to Lakers management that they should consider hiring Jackson, who is: (1) the team’s former coach who led them to five titles; (2) the most successful head coach in NBA history; (3) a Los Angeles resident; and (4) the fiancé of Jim’s sister, Jeanie Buss, who is also in charge of business operations for the Lakers.
“Both my brothers are fearful of getting what they want and fearful of failure…Only Jeanie has the brains and the desire…At some level, Johnny and Jimmy must understand that.”- Janie Buss
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” – Yoda
November 2012. The Phil Jackson Fiasco
After a Friday meeting on November 9, 2012, between Jackson, Jim Buss, and Mitch Kupchak, the former coach indicates he feels up to taking the job but would like the weekend to think about it. Jackson’s agent is set to fly in on Monday to discuss terms which have not been addressed yet.
Lakers fans are ecstatic about what appears to be Jackson’s inevitable return and chant his name forcefully during the team’s next game that weekend. Both Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant strongly endorse Jackson as well, one of the few times they will be on the same page that season. Everything seems set up for another Lakers run of dominance.
But Jackson receives a call from Mitch Kupchak just before midnight on Sunday, November 11, 2012, informing him that the Lakers have hired Mike D’Antoni. Both the decision and the seemingly shady manner in which the Lakers executed it are roundly criticized by fans, media, and former Lakers.
“I don’t believe in Jim Buss.” - Magic Johnson on national television after Jim Buss vindictively refuses to bring Phil Jackson back to coach.
In preparation for the expected backlash, Lakers management allegedly leaks false reports that Jackson had specifically demanded an ownership interest and total personnel control during the meeting with Jim Buss.
Jeanie Buss is furious with the disrespectful manner in which Phil was treated by her brother and the false reports. Jim tries to say it was really their father who decided on D’Antoni, but Jeanie sees through that canard quickly. Believing that Jim was acting vindictively, she reportedly refuses to speak to him for months.
“Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.” – Yoda
Bernie Bickerstaff, who was interim coach while the team searched for a new head coach, is informed by the media that D’Antoni intends to keep him on staff.
“Well that’s nice to know,” Bickerstaff replies with a disgusted expression that suggests nobody in Lakers management bothered to inform him he still had a job.
February 22, 2013. The Jerry Buss Memorial
Lakers owner Jerry Buss dies at the age of 80 on February 18, 2013. Pursuant to his instructions, all six of the Buss children are given ownership of the team. Jim is to be in charge of “basketball decisions” as executive VP of basketball operations, and Jeanie is to run the financial side of the team.
A few days later at the memorial service, Jim Buss, feeling too emotional to speak, asks a friend named Greg Tomlinson to speak to the gathering. He is in theory supposed to represent the “voice of the fans” at the service.
Tomlinson acknowledges he knew Buss only in passing, jokes about wanting season seats, and rambles on longer than many of the esteemed speakers. Tomlinson’s inclusion is criticized as awkward and uncomfortable by many in attendance.
“Well, by far, D’Antoni is a better coach for Steve Nash, but I’m a far better coach for Dwight Howard.” – Phil Jackson
D’Antoni, who was hired for 3-years and $12 million, immediately alienates his two star big men, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, by stating that post play is “inefficient” and even benches Gasol. When asked why he benched two-time NBA champion Gasol, D’Antoni replies, “Because I wanted to win.” (In later years, D'Antoni's disdain for big men produces awkward relationships with Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill, both of whom see sporadic playing time.)
In an environment of chaos, Howard never really gets along with Bryant’s grouchy personality, and Kobe questions Howard’s mental toughness. A power struggle of sorts exists all season long. At one point Bryant even snaps that longtime teammate Gasol “needs to put his big boy pants on.” Nobody on the roster but Nash seems to really get along with D’Antoni and management appears to do nothing to solve the horrible chemistry issues.
Gasol and Howard battle lingering injuries throughout the season and even when apparently healthy, never find an offensive rhythm in the new system. Steve Nash suffers a nerve injury, misses months of playing time, and is never the player he was in Phoenix.
Bryant battles injuries and then, after strong-arming D’Antoni into letting him play over 40 minutes a game in order to help the team sneak into the playoffs, suffers a season-ending torn Achilles.
In the most underachieving season in Lakers history, the team finishes 45-37 and winds up the 7th seed in the West. The Clippers meanwhile, win all four of their games versus the Lakers for the first time ever. The Lakers are swept easily in the first round by the ultra-professional San Antonio Spurs.
It is clear which organization has its act together and which does not.
July -September 2013. A Rough Offseason
In an effort to persuade Dwight Howard to re-sign with the Lakers, who can offer him the most money, Jim Buss puts up billboards throughout Los Angeles begging Howard to "STAY." The move is almost universally ridiculed and believed to make the Lakers appear sad and desperate.
In negotiations, Howard allegedly restates a prior request for a new coach who will emphasize post play, preferably Phil Jackson. Lakers management, led by Jim Buss, tells Howard that D’Antoni is their man.
Howard becomes the first significant free agent since A.C. Green to leave the Lakers for another team when he chooses to sign with the Houston Rockets for $30 million less in guaranteed money.
Jim Buss, in Dan Gilbert-like fashion, comments that Dwight Howard “was never a Laker. He was just passing through." The bitter comment fuels the belief among NBA players that the Lakers are perhaps no longer the classy organization they once were.
Jeanie Buss, however, revealingly notes that her father could probably have persuaded Howard to stay. She states regarding Dwight, “I think we failed him.”
On July 11, 2013, the Lakers amnesty Metta World Peace. Though World Peace was a popular player with the media and fans, the move is seen as financially prudent by most. Nonetheless, Kobe Bryant publicly tweets his displeasure with the move. It is unclear how much of a heads up Bryant was given about this.
“Jimmy doesn’t have the backbone to negotiate or the confidence to succeed.”- Janie Buss
“The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.” Obi-Wan Kenobi
2013-2014 Season. The Kobe Contract and Other Blunders
Before the season begins, Jim Buss states he bets on Kobe to return during the preseason, thereby unnecessarily creating unrealistic expectations of Kobe and the team. The fans are inevitably disappointed when Kobe doesn’t actually return until two months into the season.
On November 26, 2013, before Kobe plays a single game since his devastating injury, Buss and the Lakers sign Kobe to a two-year, $48.5 million contract, ensuring he will remain the highest paid player in the NBA. The move will likely handcuff the Lakers’ ability to sign multiple quality free agents over the next two seasons and is almost universally ridiculed as a poor decision by other GMs, fans, and media since it was clear that Kobe would not have been offered 1/2 of that amount by other teams.
“We didn’t see the point in waiting. As far as trusting Kobe coming back on the court, you’re a fool if you don’t think he’s going to [play well]. I have 100% faith.”- Jim Buss
“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Meanwhile, Steve Nash's nerve injury continues to plague him. Still, the Lakers can seek a medical retirement for Nash, and thereby avoid his approximately $10 million salary from counting against the salary cap, if he plays less than ten games.
Jim and the Lakers choose not to sit him and instead blindly express confidence that Nash will be back. Nash limps his way through exactly ten games, eliminating that cap-saving option for the Lakers. The Lakers then trade away Steve Blake for Marshon Brooks and Kent Bazemore in order to save a few million.
Finally, well aware that Pau Gasol and Mike D'Antoni mix like oil and water, the Lakers seek to trade Pau as this is his final year before free agency. However, the Lakers reject a number of offers as inadequate and keep the unhappy Gasol, thus almost ensuring they will receive nothing for him.
All of these decisions appear to be in sync with Jim's managerial philosophy, which is apparently based upon some twist of statistical analysis that he has firmly committed the Lakers future to.
"I use a system that has proven to be right." - Jim Buss (From article by Kevin Ding in October 20, 2012, Orange County Register.)
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” – Han Solo
March 6, 2014. Clippers 142, Lakers 94
The worst loss in Los Angeles Lakers history...and to the Clippers no less.
“Lakers fans are passionate about the game. They want to know who’s going to help lead this team to championships. And that’s what I do. I help lead the team to championships.” – Jim Buss (Ding article)
March 18, 2014. Phil Jackson Announced as President of the New York Knicks
Despite the loud outcry from the fans, Kobe, and Magic, the Lakers sit put while Phil Jackson is hired by the Knicks. Jim Buss is seemingly unmoved and doesn’t bother to personally make any public statement whatsoever. One can only imagine his glee. He is finally free to begin his incompetent reign of terror without the "threat" of Jackson.
“I don’t mind criticism so long as I’m comfortable with what I’m doing.”– Jim Buss
“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
The Lakers are currently being run by an owner who has no real history of past academic, athletic, or business success. Indeed, the record suggests he has never had the greatest work ethic even when working for the Lakers.
In addition to a penchant for making poor decisions regarding coaching and personnel, Jim Buss also appears to minimize the role others have played in the success of the Lakers (such as scouts, Jerry West, or Phil Jackson); is capable of letting petty jealousies impact how he runs the team (treatment of Phil Jackson, Jeanie Buss, and others); and is too shy and insecure to be the face of the franchise.
To date, the overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that Jim Buss is going to be a horrible owner. Even positive talk about the few bright spots in the Lakers future (a lottery pick, cap space, etc.) must be tempered by the realization that Jim will be the primary decision-maker.
Nepotism is a strange thing. Everyone understands it, but it's no less annoying to the people not receiving the benefits.
So while anyone can understand why Dr. Buss would want one of his children to make the "basketball decisions" for the Lakers, it would be silly to suggest that fans give Jim Buss the same loyalty his father earned. If he were a player competing for a roster spot, this guy would be cut well before the end of training camp.
Lakers fans must now choose whether they really want to stay loyal to the Lakers tradition and continue the rebellion - the numerous protests that have arisen since the Lakers rejected Phil Jackson (again) - or simply accept the dark path the Lakers are on.
"[Realistically], I don't think it could ever work." - Janie Buss
"Who is the greater fool? The fool, or the one who follows him?" - Obi-Wan Kenobi
By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com