During the short amount of time I listened to Jeanie Buss on ESPN Radio last week, I saw great possibilities for the Lakers, but only if creators of TV series like Scandal and Nashville are willing to take up additional projects.
Jeanie made it clear that as team president, she is the ultimate decision-maker for the Lakers. She admitted she was upset when her brother Jim, who is head of basketball operations, did not hire her fiancé Phil Jackson as coach, but that she didn’t overrule Jim because she wanted to let him do his job.
OK. So the person who has control over all decisions for the franchise allows an underling to not hire the man she not only believes is the best coach for the team, but also is her future husband. And, by the way, the man in question has won a record 11 titles as a coach.
Forget basketball; let’s talk prime-time soap opera.
ABC, where are you? Because there is so much more.
Jeanie also said a detailed ESPN The Magazine story that basically identified Kobe Bryant as the root of all evil that has enveloped the Lakers — specifically, premium free agents have had no desire to join the Lakers because Bryant is a very difficult man to be around — was incorrect because no free agent has ever told the Lakers they did not want to join the team because Bryant is a very difficult man to be around.
That would be the rough equivalent of telling someone you don’t want to have a date with them because they’re ugly. That may be true, but it’s easier – and nicer/less controversial – to simply say: “I want to be with someone else.”
Jeanne also said if in the unlikely case a free agent did not want to play on a team with Kobe, that would simply mean the player “is probably a loser.”
Later, she said her brother, like all members of the Lakers organization, will be held accountable for his performance – which means, we assume, if the Lakers continue to miss the playoffs, big brother will be out of a job.
But she said Jim has assured her that in three years, the Lakers will be every bit as good as the Lakers of recent and distant past.
Yes, three years.
Coincidentally, Kobe has two years left on his contract. So what Jeanie was saying, it seems, is that Jim sees a bunch of losers on the next two free agent markets and is not promising anything until Kobe leaves.
Is this great stuff or what? Hey, forget everyone else. Can someone get Aaron Sorkin on the phone?
Untangling the Lakers mess is something only one man could accomplish, and unfortunately for Lakers fans, Dr. Jerry Buss died in February 2013.
What I find amazing is the extremes of publicity that Bryant generates. It was a few short years ago when it was popular to argue the merits of Bryant vs. Michael Jordan. It didn’t really matter which side anyone took; the fact that Kobe was in the argument is a testament to his excellence.
But in the last few years, there has been so much negative about Kobe, and all he has done is fanatically rehab from a torn Achilles and fractured knee. He also signed a contract extension that was offered to him, and somehow accepting the money was considered an indictment of Kobe as a player.
Other than Steve Nash, the Lakers have not been successful at signing significant free agents. But is that because Kobe is difficult and demanding? Or because he is 36 with two major injuries the last two years?
And what free agents are excited about a team that would fire a coach five games into the season (Mike Brown, 2012) and will now have its third coach in four years? Is the instability all Kobe, or all because the Lakers have a president who allows underlings to make huge mistakes just to see if they can eventually do their job? How interested would free agents be if Phil Jackson coached the Lakers?
Kobe, no doubt, is tough on teammates. Most of the great ones are. Michael Jordan punched teammates in practice. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were intolerant of poor play.
The difference seems to be that unlike some of the other great ones, Bryant has never been one of the guys. He’s a little more aloof and introverted, a guy with an unparalleled work ethic who sometimes does not understand why others don’t work the same way.
I have no doubt that the ESPN story was correct. It was objective, detailed and well-documented. Yes, as Jeanie Buss noted, anonymous sources were used. But suggesting there is a connection between confidentiality and inaccuracy has always been a reach and still is. Just because a fact was obtained off the record doesn’t mean it’s not a fact.
So premium free agents are leery of playing with tunnel-vision-ultracompetitive Kobe. Well, we’ll see – because Jim Buss’ job depends on it. And he may have an additional challenge. What if Kobe wants to sign another contract and stick around?
You still have to wonder, however, if Lakers executives had made better decisions, and if the Lakers still had the reputation of being run like, well, the Lakers, would that make a difference in attracting talent?
One thing Jeanie Buss can be sure of is this: If Dr. Jerry Buss was alive and still running the team, by now, he would know the answer to that question.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.
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