Shortly after Jerry Buss’s death in 2013, I contemplated the Lakers’ future and it wasn’t a pretty picture. In fact, my very first Snide World of Sports was entitled “Dr. Buss Must Be Spinning.” But I had no idea the next three years would be the worst in franchise history. (Going back to Minneapolis!) This year’s team started out at 10-10, which means they’ve been 9-29 since. (Can you say “horrible?”)
Perhaps over these past three seasons I’ve been a little harsh on the Lakers. And I’ll admit under Dr. Buss’ regime, with the Lakers averaging an NBA Finals appearance almost every other year, I got spoiled. Nothing proves that more than looking at the N.Y. Knicks. They haven’t won a title since 1973. That’s 44 years! ( And I’m doing this without a calculator.)
I don’t know how Knick fans don’t riot in the street. Even more puzzling, they still pack Madison Square Garden. If Dr. Buss was the best owner in the history of professional sports, the Knicks’ James Dolan has to be the worst. So I take some comfort that at least the Lakers aren’t the Knicks. That said, N.Y. actually has a better record which brings me back to whining about the Lakers.
Is there any hope? Luke Walton gives me some. And Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Lou Williams, D’Angelo Russell and a few others show skills that give cause for hope. But 19-39 is still the 3rd worst record in the NBA. (And in a way, thankfully so, because on that pace the Lakers might be able to keep their first round draft choice, ping-pong balls willing.)
Basically, however, the eggs I’m putting in the hope basket come in the form of Magic Johnson who’s been on the sports talk show tour lobbying for the Lakers’ G.M. job. Keep in mind the current VP of basketball operations for the Lakers is Jim Buss, Jerry’s son, but his days running the show should be over.
After all it was Buss Jr. who said after three years of his reign, if the Lakers weren’t contenders, he’d resign. Two things are obvious. The three years will be up at the end of this season, and the Lakers aren’t contenders for anything other than the bottom of the barrel. (Jim personally defined “contender” as competing for the Conference Finals.)
No matter what trades the Lakers might pull off at the upcoming deadline, and even if they get a top draft choice, they won’t soon be in the Conference Finals. Not with Golden State, San Antonio, the Clippers and Houston in the Western conference.
Magic, as he auditions for the Lakers head honcho job has gone from just being an “adviser” to calling the shots with basketball decisions. So what is Magic offering? For one thing, he seems to be realistic. Tough as it is to hear, he’s saying it will take from 3-5 years for the Lakers to relevant again. Ouch. But probably true. Secondly, I think Magic can only help in the sales job that would be necessary to bring elite free agents to the Lakers, if that’s possible. (Don’t look now, folks, but Russell Westbrook can opt out of his OKC contract at the end of this season!)
Can you imagine the energy and excitement Westbrook could bring to the Lakers? (Former UCLA Bruin, Russ, are you listening?) Some have said without Russell OKC would be a lottery team. The Lakers have been a lottery team for so long, we’re lucky it’s not part of the logo.
Jerry Buss, of course, was a genius at persuading free agents to come to L.A., or rolling the dice on a big trade. (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq to name but a few and keep in mind Anthony Davis of the Pellicans can opt out of his contract in New Orelans after two more seasons.) Of course Dr. Buss was a champion poker player and salesman extraordinaire.
Buss also loved winning and wanted to catch the Celtics who have 17 NBA crowns to the Lakers 16. Not exactly a news flash, Boston is very close to the elite level of the NBA and scratching at the door of a title while the Lakers are scratching at the cellar door.
Speaking of doors, my gut says Jeannie will let Magic do the dirty work of gracefully showing her brother Jim the exit. Don’t feel too bad for Jim, he’s still 1/6th owner of perhaps the second most valuable NBA franchise. (The Knicks, the definition of dysfunctional with no end in sight, are the most valuable franchise at an estimated $3.5 billion!)
So I say bring on the Magic Man and lets go for the ride. I only hope he gets a long enough of a leash from Jeannie and that he has the patience. Clearly, I ran out of mine, long ago.
Jack also writes “Laughing Matters,” which appears every Friday. He can be reached at: email@example.com.