Should Jeanie Sell the Lakers?
It seems like a decade or more, but it’s only been six years since Jerry Buss, the esteemed owner of the Lakers, passed away. Under his thirty-four year reign the Lakers won 10 NBA Championships. In fact, Buss is considered by many to have been the best owner of any professional sports team in history. And the Lakers used to be viewed as one of the premier franchises in all of sports. (Emphasis on “used to be.”)
I say all this as a lifelong Laker fan. And, also with respect for Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ controlling owner and President, who is, by all accounts, a terrific person. On the other hand, if someone was trying to ruin the Lakers, I’m not sure they could have done a better job. Ouch!
Some maintain that, with LeBron, the Lakers are only a top free agent away from being a title contender again. Even were that true, given this current bizarre Laker reality show revealing turmoil in ownership and management, what top (and sane) free agent would want to come here?
If you were Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, or Kemba Walker, and you had only two choices, that being between: The Clippers, with their billionaire owner, Steve Ballmer, an NBA championship winning coach, Doc Rivers, and top consultant Jerry West or…
The Lakers with Jeanie, and assorted confidants, including Linda Rambis whose expertise seems non-existent, coach Frank Vogel who’s never been to an NBA Championship (other than maybe having bought a ticket) and G.M. Rob Pelinka, who appears to be thoroughly disliked in the league. So, Clippers or Lakers, which would you choose?
It’s tragic how the once mighty Lakers have fallen. Once the best team in the NBA, they aren’t even the best team in L.A. I’d say they’re second best, though, who knows, the Sparks might give them a run for their money. (Okay, I admit, that was uncalled for.)
Think about it. The Lakers hold the NBA playoff record for: most wins, 125; highest winning percentage, .620; most NBA Finals, 31; and second in NBA Championships, 16, behind the Boston Celtics, 17. So how did this incredible collapse happen?
It’s as if the moment Jerry Buss’s heart stopped beating, so did the Lakers. Consider, in the first 65 years of the Laker franchise’s existence, they missed the playoffs only five times. Including this past season, they’ve now missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
After Buss Sr.’s death, the Laker torch was passed to Jeanie and her older brother, Jim. Jeanie was the ultimate power but Jim was in charge of basketball operations along with General Manager, former Laker star, Mitch Kupchak.
To his credit (or naivete?) Jim said if the Lakers weren’t “contenders” after 3 or 4 years, he would resign. After 3 years, Jeanie made the difficult decision for him. (Which must have made for an awkward family Thanksgiving that year.)
Seemingly a brilliant move, Jeanie chose Magic Johnson to be President of Basketball Operations but, inexplicably, chose Rob Pelinka to be his G.M. Magic’s Laker resume, including five NBA titles, is legendary. Pelinka’s resume is he was Kobe’s agent and bears a striking resemblance to Rob Lowe. Go figure.
There were red flags, however, including free agent Paul George’s not even giving the Lakers an interview. But Magic eventually signed LeBron James and the soundtrack coming from Staples Center was “Happy Times Are Here Again.”
That is, until, on April 9th, everything came crashing down with Magic’s abrupt, impromptu press announcement that he was resigning and without notifying Jeanie, mind you. Can you imagine Magic telling Jerry Buss he was resigning because “I wasn’t having fun?” Can you picture Magic resigning without giving Jerry Buss advance notice? Inconceivable on both counts.
And then there’s Magic’s controversial May 20th appearance on “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith. On air, Johnson went “scorched earth” calling Pelinka a “back stabber” and criticizing just about everybody in the Laker organization. There went a 40-year relationship with the Buss family and would seem to make it impossible for Magic to recruit free agents for the Lakers this summer.
So look for the Clippers having big success in free agency and the Lakers coming up empty. Unless you’re a Clipper fan, that means, come the next NBA season, we’ll have to see Steve Ballmer in the front row clapping and cheering like a madman. Talk about classless.
As the risk of sounding like Danny Downer, I fear the Lakers may squander LeBron’s remaining three years here and any return to glory. Acting as his own rainmaker, LeBron is personally reaching out to Leonard and Butler. If that fails, I can only hope Jeanie, instead of peace, gives selling a chance.
Jack’s “Laughing Matters” appears every Friday. He can be reached at Jackdailypress@aol.com.