Things aren’t always what they seem.
Jim Buss is criticized to no end for the job he’s done with the Los Angeles Lakers, his greatest flaw seemingly being that he’s not his father, Dr. Jerry Buss. Compounded by his father’s death, Los Angeles’ sub-par season and a failure to retain Dwight Howard, Jim’s reputation is one of the more gruesomely perceived in the NBA.
Oh, and there’s that whole Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson thing. The Zen Master was available after the Lakers fired Mike Brown. A reunion of glorious sorts could have ensued. Music would have played. Doves would have flown around the Staples Center. And all would have been right in Los Angeles.
Instead of signing Jackson and taking the easy route, instead of taking the proven route, the Lakers rolled with Magic Mike. No championships, no defense, just offense. Were they serious? D’Antoni over Jackson? That’s like picking spinach over pizza. Who does that?
The Lakers do. Specifically, Dr. Buss does.
While speaking with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Jim let it be known it was his father who green-lighted D’Antoni over Jackson:
We did the coaching search and interviews and fed him all the information. And he said, ‘This is who I want. D’Antoni’s the man.’ Knowing that in the future we had to rebuild, he felt that Phil was not a guy to rebuild. It’s not fair to him. It was actually more of a respectful thought towards Phil.
Had it been public knowledge that D’Antoni was Dr. Buss’ guy, maybe there wouldn’t have been such a circus. For over 30 years, he never steered the Lakers wrong in terms of the big picture. He brought in players, hired coaches and he won championships. That was his M.O.
But because we thought it was Jim, even if it this doesn’t go for all of us, it was a mistake. The Lakers barely made the playoffs and couldn’t even convince one of their own to remain in Tinseltown. Failures don’t get much bigger than that in Lakerland, where they’re used to getting what they want. Players are supposed to beg for the chance to play there, not the other way around.
This is a different time, though. Los Angeles is navigating a different minefield than the one Jerry successfully led them through. They’re facing a different CBA and, most importantly, an aging Kobe Bryant. Prospective free agents aren’t always sold on playing next to 35-year-olds, especially ones who don’t figure to pass the torch quickly.
Which isn’t a shot at Kobe. He’s great. One of the best. We’d be foolish to think that everything that has happened over the last year or so doesn’t have to do with him, though. And money. And coaches. And anything else you can think of.
What’s happening in Los Angeles is bigger than any one person. Bigger than Kobe. Bigger than Jim. Would things have panned out differently with Dwight had Dr. Buss still been alive and well? Maybe. But that doesn’t change that it was him who apparently slighted Phil, taking a risk on a man who he thought could bring showtime back.
Similarly it doesn’t mean this was a failure, either. D’Antoni hasn’t been given a fair shake just yet. Give him a training camp, a season with a healthy convocation. Then see what happens. Patience in this instance is imperative.
That holds true whether it’s Jim, Jerry or even the Kool-Aid Man making the decisions.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His work can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.