Fair or not, a healthy percentage of Lakers loyalists see him as a guy running roughshod over his father’s legacy, trying to put his own stamp on the organization. But throughout his painfully slow introduction to the purple and gold faithful, the Lakers could protect him and he could protect himself by noting all major decisions were made with the input and approval of Dr. Buss, along with Mitch Kupchak. The message was constantly reinforced: Jim Buss is not some despot operating with total independence.
Now that net is gone, and with the Lakers facing significant challenges not just this year, but also going forward, it’s fair to say Jim Buss has the most difficult job of any executive in sports. Every choice he makes will be viewed through the prism of Dr. Buss, and you can be sure fans will assume the patriarch would have made the right one.
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Meanwhile, there is the family dynamic to navigate. Dr. Buss left the Lakers in trust to his six children, with Jim in charge of the basketball side and the well-loved, well-respected Jeanie running the business end. The family has adamantly denied any suggestion they will sell the team. Doing so wouldn’t be easy, anyway. The Buss children own a 66 percent share of the team, and it can only be sold off in its entirety, though a majority vote.
Kupchak, not surprisingly, painted the relationship between Jim and Jeanie as solid and functioning, but reports of tension between them go back years. Kobe Bryant expressed confidence the organization would continue to be successful, but it won’t be the same.
“You’re following the greatest owner in sports. To try to match that or equal that, it’s nearly an impossible task,” he said. “But, I think in their own way they’ll have success, for sure.”
For the time being, things likely won’t seem much different in El Segundo. But make no mistake, the landscape has changed. An obvious amount of uncertainty has followed the Lakers for a few seasons now, but without Dr. Buss the team is officially in uncharted waters.
“We’ll work on it. Jimmy, and I, and Jeanie, we’ll continue to work on it. He can’t be replaced,” Kupchak said. “We’ll just have to attack it our own way.”
Now, on to this week’s trade deadline.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (25-29)
The Lakers will honor Dr. Buss on Thursday afternoon in a memorial service, starting at 3 pm PT. Three hours earlier, the trade deadline will have come and gone, and Kupchak reiterated again Tuesday that Dwight Howard will still be in Los Angeles when the dust settles.
Asked whether any part of him wants to be traded, given how poorly the season has gone, Howard … I’ll go with “deflected.”
“I just want to win,” he said.
Here, or somewhere else?
“I just want to win, right now, where I’m at,” he said. “I’m committed to this team, to this season, and what we can accomplish right now. I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win. And that’s it.”
Howard shot back at reports of unhappiness in LA and supposition that he already has decided to move on once the season ends. “Listen, I’ve never said anything about none of this stuff. So if anybody has a report, or anything is said about what’s going on, then obviously it can’t be true,” he said.
Of course, that’s not how this sort of thing works. Howard doesn’t need to say it out loud, because he has people (and body language) doing it for him. Nonetheless, even while factoring in that Kupchak would never actually articulate plans to do otherwise, the odds seem slim that Howard will be traded this week.
With Pau Gasol on the shelf, Jordan Hill out for the season, few young assets and no draft picks of value, the Lakers aren’t a good bet to swing any sort of deal.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (39-17)
Now that Kevin Garnett has made it pretty clear he won’t waive his no-trade clause - saying he wants to be “buried in green” isn’t terribly ambiguous – rumors of a trade with Utah involving Eric Bledsoe and Paul Millsap are catching on. The deal would give the Clippers a badly needed source of frontcourt scoring, although it would certainly juggle Vinny Del Negro’s rotation and create some interesting matchup questions down the stretch of games, particularly defensively.
There are major risks to moving Bledsoe, but while most people focus on his status as Chris Paul insurance should the All-Star MVP decide to sign elsewhere this offseason – I’m not concerned, for what it’s worth – the bigger concern should be how losing Bledsoe would impact this season’s squad. He allows Del Negro to control the minutes of both Paul and Chauncey Billups and is a force defensively.