The past few days have been pure soap opera in Southern California reminiscent of the over-hyped 2004 Lakers featuring Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. This year's squad, with marquee acquisitions Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Antawn Jamison, is supposed to be on a collision course with the Miami Heat toward the NBA Finals in June. Could anyone have predicted that head coach Mike Brown would already be fired in five games? The season is less than two weeks old.
I don't think Mike Brown is as poor a coach as most people think. He was a young and upcoming coach who paid his dues under Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle not very long ago. But this article is not a defense of Mike Brown. It is an indictment of Jim Buss.
No matter how the Lakers had handled the situation, the Mike Brown fiasco will eventually reflect very poorly on Jim Buss. This January, Yahoo had an article calling the Oakland Raiders' owner Mark Davis "Tommy Boy" and in over his head. The same "Tommy Boy" categorization also aptly applies to Jim Buss.
Jim Buss' father, Dr. Jerry Buss, is an astute man. For the most part, he allowed professionals such as Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak to run the show without meddling from the ownership. The Lakers were a model franchise in recent years with a high degree of continuity.
That would change when Jerry Buss retired and took on a very limited role on the team. He passed most of his duties to his son Jim in 2010. With Phil Jackson also retiring, Jim insisted on putting his stamp on his own team despite objections from Kupchak and Kobe Bryant. He ruthlessly "cleaned house".
He marginalized Kobe Bryant in favor of his pet project Andrew Bynum and resisted trading him until this summer because Bynum was "his guy". He passed over longtime assistant Brian Shaw for Mike Brown. Shaw was not informed that he would not be hired after interviewing. In fact, he first knew of Brown's impending hire from Kobe Bryant. Jim Buss also belittled Phil Jackson and the famed triangle offense.
Pau Gasol was allegedly on the trading block last season. Derek Fisher was traded to the Thunder and he has not been brought back despite some fans clamoring for his return given Steve Nash's current injury.
According to sources, the Lakers' front office has been an uncommunicative, rudderless fiasco, as the power struggle and politics extended from the front office all the way to the equipment room. Alleged Phil Jackson loyalists were summarily purged in the months leading up to the lockout. Assistant GM Ronnie Lester and most of his scouts were let go. Renowned sports science expert, Alex McKechnie, also was told to pack up. None of them, as Shaw's aforementioned case exemplifies, were given the courtesy of knowing whether they would be brought back beforehand.
The saddest case of all is the dismissal of beloved equipment manager Rudy Garcidueñas. This guy had been a loyal employee for over 30 years all the way back since the Showtime era. Why would Jim Buss, the heir of a billionaire, consider it prudent and necessary to purge an equipment manager? Is he really that insecure?
Like Andrew Bynum, who was traded this offseason, Mike Brown was another Jim Buss' "guy". The irony is the Lakers are now seemingly begging Phil Jackson to come back to coach. The same Phil Jackson Jim Buss was so desperately trying to disassociate with two years ago. The Lakers' ardent fans certainly deserve nothing less than the return of Zen Master. Anybody else would qualify as a disappointment. But no matter what happens next and how the Lakers' current season eventually stacked up from a historical standpoint, the current mess is entirely on Jim Buss.
Scapegoating Mike Brown will not change that.