Los Angeles Lakers governor Jeanie Buss sat down for an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Times published this week. She discussed her displeasure with the team’s abysmal season and what she plans on doing to make things better. Here’s the thing, it starts with her. Buss needs to be different and better.
“I’m growing impatient just because we had the fourth-highest payroll in the league. … When you spend that kind of money on the luxury tax, you expect to go deep into the playoffs,” she told The Times. “So, yeah, it was gut-wrenching for me to go out on a limb like that and not get the results that we were looking for. … I’m not happy, I’m not satisfied.”
The Lakers have been a superstar franchise since 1979. Basketball is entertainment and you need the best and brightest in the “purple and gold.” If they don’t draft a ready-made superstar, they’ll just trade for one.
That works up to a point. But when you invest in old and often injured superstars, that complicates things.
Since the 2013-14 season the Lakers made the playoffs twice and won a championship in 2020. The team finished below .500 in the other seven seasons.
Buss and her five siblings became majority owners of the Lakers in 2013 after the death of their father, Dr. Jerry Buss. In 2017 as team governor, Jeanie fired longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak and installed Lakers legend Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations. She forced her brother Jim out, named Rob Pelinka as general manager and took over control of the franchise.
Johnson abruptly walked out on Buss and the organization in a bizzare impromptu press conference at the end of the 2019 season. There was alleged friction between him and Pelinka.
During the time Johnson left Kurt and Linda Rambis, already members of Buss’ inner circle, allegedly consolidated more power within the organization and are rumored to be major influencers on basketball decisions. A point Buss clarified.
“I know that there’s been some unfair criticism of Kurt Rambis,” she said. “I want to remind people, he’s been involved in the NBA for close to 40 years, that he has been a part of championship teams both as a player and assistant coach, he is someone I admire for his basketball knowledge.
“In terms of Linda Rambis, she does not have a role in the basketball department; her role is, as it’s been for the last almost 40 years, is as my adviser. She and I have worked together for years and years and years. Why that has become an issue for people, I don’t understand.”
Jeanie runs the franchise in much the same way her late father did. Only with less success. The Lakers haven’t drafted a player like Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant since she took over. Yes, they acquired LeBron James and Anthony Davis and won a title. But see above regarding old and often injured.
This offseason is pivotal for the franchise. They need to hire a new head coach, and assemble a roster that can complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A challenging endeavor as the team is deep in the luxury tax and has no draft capital.
It’s also been reported that former Lakers head coach and Buss’ ex-fiancé Phil Jackson will have input on matters this offseason.
“He’s somebody that knows this environment and knows the challenges I have and wants to see the Lakers successful,” she said. “So he’s somebody I know doesn’t have any other agenda than for the Lakers to be successful, so he’s somebody that I can lean on.”
That’s Jackson, Johnson, Pelinka, a Rambis or two, and Buss all weighing in with input on basketball decisions. Not to mention LeBron and Klutch. Seems like a very crowded boardroom.
Buss is loyal, to a fault, to the individuals that have helped the franchise win 17 NBA titles. But she needs to look outside the Lakers family and hire the best basketball minds. The league and the game has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.
She needs to invest in an analytics department to aid in the decisions that the best basketball minds make. Invest in player development. You’re in Los Angeles, so you’ll always attract stars. But why not have talent coming from all different areas.
Look to the G League and overseas for talent. Max salary players are important. But you know who else helps teams win? Super talented young players on team friendly deals.
The Lakers have a lot of inherent advantages as a franchise. If Buss would take a modern approach while also honoring the past, the franchise would be unstoppable. Spend like a big market franchise but incorporate the sensibilities of the best-run small and mid-market franchises.
The Lakers still might end up winning a title again at some point in the future if Buss continues to do what she’s always done. Sometimes teams get lucky. But why not be really smart and effective with basketball decisions and give luck as many chances as possible?
To do that requires a change in mindset.