For the Lakers, the old era was paradise, from 1979 when Jerry Buss bought the team and as his first official act got to draft Magic Johnson.
The team that went 1-for-9 in the Finals in its first 20 seasons in town and lost all seven meetings with Boston made 16 more Finals and won 10 more titles in the next 30 years, replacing the Celtics as the NBA’s dominant franchise from that point.
When Buss passed away Monday, a wave of grief swept over Lakers fans and players “all spoiled by his vision and his drive to win year, after year, after year,” as Kobe Bryant put it in a tribute before Wednesday’s game against — who else? – the Celtics.
Unfortunately, after winning 10 titles in 30 seasons, Buss had neglected to do anything for the fans in the last two or three.
With his illness kept secret, he went out in a hail of groans as his team cratered despite its slick moves to get Dwight Howard and Steve Nash and its daring but responsible move — I thought – to take Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson, which turned into a debacle.
Three days into the Jim Buss Era, the Lakers had to make an unbelievably knotty decision: whether or not to move Dwight Howard.
Of course, they made that one a while back, in the last shot that Jerry Buss called.
Simply put, if you have an old team with one young star, he’s who you have to keep.
The day before the trade deadline, GM Mitch Kupchak ended the suspense (?), telling ESPN Radio, “Dwight is our future. Kobe has one more year on his deal. That’s all I can bank on or this organization can bank on. I have no idea if he wants to continue to play beyond next year.
“It’s hard to get talent in this league and to have a talent like Dwight Howard. He belongs to have his name on the wall and a statue in front of Staples at some point in time.”
Happily for the Lakers – at least for a night – Howard played like somebody’s future in the victory over the Celtics, going for 24 points and 12 boards. He then hinted — for the very first time — that he is leaning toward staying, noting, “We have years to play with each other so it’s a learning process.”
On the other hand, relations between Howard and Bryant look Arctic.
At the All-Star Game, Howard reportedly was “mocking” Bryant, doing an impersonation of him for West teammates.
Of course, Howard has been doing that publicly since he arrived, as he did in his introductory news conference. There, it was obviously in fun and not mockery.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Bryant and Howard barely spoke on the charter flight home from Houston, quoting an unidentified source who said, “It was almost like Kobe was giving him the silent treatment.”
Kupchak also made it official: This team has a two-season window, until the end of the 2013-14 season, when everyone except Steve Nash sees their current contract expire.
After that, we’ll have a better idea of who the Lakers’ future is. Or if they have one.
On to the rankings.