Jim Buss made an appearance in Los Angeles last week and apparently did not see his shadow because he said he will no longer play hide and seek.
Which is good because now that he has ventured into the public, he can get himself familiar with the Thunder, Spurs, defending champions and … the potential shadow cast by Larry Brown?
If only the basketball gods will cooperate.
But first, let’s address Buss – a man who has been a shadowy figure, unwilling to elaborate on the inner workings of the Lakers or his own ascendency to chief decision maker of the franchise seeking a 17th championship.
Buss emerged from his cocoon last week in an interview with the ESPN radio affiliate in Los Angeles and said he will become a less mysterious figure.
“I should have been out there before,” said the son of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. “Meet and greet, whatever it is. I think that’s the problem I’ve had to face. … If they don’t know you, it gives them more leeway to attack me.
“I’ll change that and I’ll do these shows and get on television and more newspaper articles. If people don’t like the decisions I make, that’s opinion, and that’s OK with me.”
Well … good. That’s the way it should be. Buss apparently decided, however, that if he was going to become a willing public figure, he’d do it with all the subtlety of Lady Gaga choosing a dinner outfit.
In the radio interview, he proclaimed the Lakers are “the team to beat” in the Western Conference and gave a large amount of credit to new coach Mike Brown, which was a little like giving a large amount of credit to himself.
Mike Brown was not the popular first choice to replace the retired Phil Jackson. It seemed that Brian Shaw, a highly regarded seven-year assistant with the Lakers, made more sense. He would have retained Jackson’s triangle offense and would have provided a seamless transition.
Buss, however, was impressed with Mike Brown, who did come with impressive credentials, not the least of which was that he had considerable practice dealing with a superstar near the stature of Kobe Bryant. Brown coached the Cavaliers and LeBron James for five years.
Buss said Brown’s “formula is pointing toward a deep run in the playoffs. … I just recently spoke to Kobe and he believes in this team. I believe in this team. I think we’re going to get better and better and better.
“We are watching a learning process and we’re what, 13 games above .500? I think that’s great, and we’re still learning.”
Well, nothing like being unavailable and making a public splash by talking some smack. Several points should be made, however:
1. Although I believe Oklahoma City has much to prove – the Thunder has yet to win a playoff series against a team seeded in the top four – it’s difficult to ignore their season-long excellence, punctuated by Sunday’s win over Miami.
Last week, they picked up Lakers discard Derek Fisher, and although no one should have great expectations of Fisher’s on-court contributions – the 37-year-old point guard is shooting 37 percent from the field and averaging 5.8 points this season – he does bring the experience of five titles and a large dose of class and composure to the Thunder locker room and bench.
Yes, the Thunder have never defeated a higher-seeded team, but that’s why the phrase “for the first time in franchise history” was invented. Even I know that.
2. The defending champion Dallas Mavericks – the team that eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs in a four-game sweep last year – have struggled much of the season but should not be taken for granted.
Despite losing Tyson Chandler in free agency, the Mavericks are still an excellent defensive team. Keep in mind they beat this Lakers team that essentially has the same cast of characters.
3. The case for the San Antonio Spurs is a strong one and was made here last week.
4. OK, you’re Donald Sterling. You’ve spent more money on good players this season than you’ve spent on, well, some rather unusual pursuits, but yet your team is unraveling.
There are murmurs that they dislike the coach and, well, as you have undoubtedly learned in your 30-plus years in this business, these type of problems don’t turn around.
On second thought, maybe you haven’t learned.
I have one name for you: Larry Brown.
And you should know that. You brought him in during the 1991-92 season to coach a team that was three games under .500. He directed them to a 23-12 record and one of only four playoff berths you have had as an owner. In fact, that was the first time your Clippers made the playoffs.
Larry would be perfect. There isn’t enough time for him to hate the players or for them to tire of him.
Well, he could learn to dislike a few of the players.
There is no arguing, however, that he is simply a fantastic coach.
And besides, Jim Buss went with a Brown. You can call his Mike and raise him a Larry.
I have no confidence, of course, that Sterling will listen to me, although I was one of many journalists he once offered a job. But as I told him at the time, the only reason he wanted to hire me is so he could ultimately fire me so we might as well leave well enough alone.
Right now, his Clippers aren’t doing so well and he needs to do something dramatic. Plus he needs to demonstrate that he is not going to be one-upped by Buss in Los Angeles.
In one sense, the Lakers are always the team to beat because of their history and Bryant. But last year they had their history, Bryant and Jackson, and it still was not enough.
Despite what Buss said, the West is up for grabs. Sterling has been accused of groping before, but if he reached out to Larry Brown, the list of serious contenders in the West would go up by one.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.