Jim Buss is the individual most responsible for the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles through the first half of the 2012-13 season.
Despite coach Mike D'Antoni's (whom Buss hired after firing Mike Brown) lack of coaching flexibility—that is, his complete refusal to alter his strategy according to the personnel available—the problems with this organization run deeper.
Everybody looks for someone to blame when the team is struggling to produce wins on the floor.
This Lakers team is crashing and burning to a degree fans never would have thought possible three months ago.
In my opinion, on-court issues are reflective of the state of the organization.
In other words, for fans to find the source of this team's problem, they need to start the search from the inside and work their way out. With that, we can trace the line of failures all the way back to the most powerful figure in the Lakers front office.
First, it's important to understand that executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss is not the legendary Dr. Jerry Buss who had a hand in assembling some of the greatest Lakers teams of all time.
Jim is Jerry's son and has had far less success in a significantly smaller sample size.
He's been lucky to have an intelligent GM in Mitch Kupchak. Still, even some of the miraculous moves that have brought supreme talent to L.A. at startlingly low prices have not been enough to bail out the Lake Show in the last three seasons.
Now that Kupchak has gotten his well-deserved props, let's refocus our attention to EVP Buss.
His first critical mistake? Failing to communicate properly with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson at the end of his career in Los Angeles. If there's any basketball mind that should be trusted and picked for helpful tips and information, it's Jackson's.
The choice to hire D'Antoni over Phil was a strange one—I'll get into that shortly—especially considering the Zen Master appeared interested in returning to take a shot at NBA title No. 12. However, it was the misleading treatment of Jackson—later exposed by his agent—that is most alarming about Buss' actions.
Communication within an organization is critical. For a team to reach its final goal, it has to be firing on all cylinders. That means that the front office has to provide the coaching staff with the right players, and when there are breakdowns, there has to be open chatter to fix them.
Buss' handling of Jackson's non-hiring was an immediate red flag signifying a lack of full understanding of how to be the head of the organization. This season, the X's and O's clearly aren't lining up for the men on the floor, who can only be held responsible to a certain degree.
Which brings us back to the D'Antoni hiring.
The biggest reason that the move doesn't make enough sense—besides snubbing the best coach in NBA history, save maybe Red Auerbach—is that the bodies on the Lakers roster do not match D'Antoni's strategy.
D'Antoni runs a high-scoring offense that punishes teams in transition and is founded on the potency of perimeter shooting. It made clear sense in places like New York and Phoenix, where the athletes were runners and gunners who simply needed to outscore their opponents to win.
It doesn't make as much sense in Los Angeles, where two of the top offensive threats on the floor are big men, one of whom is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Four of the five starters are over the age of 30 and don't quite run the floor like they used to.
This season, the Lakers aren't playing any defense at all and aren't scoring enough to hide it.
And, since we are now talking about personnel, the amount of blame game and scapegoating around the Lakers right now completely defeats any chance they have to win. It has gotten to the point where the only consistent and respected leader left in the organization, Kobe Bryant, has tried to shoulder all the blame himself to alleviate the stress on his teammates.
This one is on meCouldn't throw the ball in the ocean if I was sitting on a boat. Had plenty of easy looks#noexcuses gotta get my legs back— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 20, 2013
Bryant is having a career year at the age of 34. Despite his most recent shooting woes—he is 25-of-79 in his last three games—and relentlessly quick trigger, Kobe is not to blame for the Lakers' slide.
The fact that his coaches and management haven't taken more responsibility is a sign of poor leadership.
The failing season has become a media circus, and like the Boston Red Sox can attest to, such scrutiny only puts the team in a deeper hole.
Jim Buss has to admit that the Lakers have a serious problem rather than continue to believe in the way things are. He needs to accept responsibility for the team's struggles, work with Coach D'Antoni on bringing in more of the right players for his system and restore a measure of self-respect that has been absent from the team all season.
If Buss doesn't, the team stands to lose Dwight Howard after his contract expires. Even if this season is declared lost—which it soon may be—Buss has to focus on steering the Lakers' ship out of stormy waters in the long term, an ability which his father magically possessed in his time at the top of the organization.
In sum, Jim Buss' decisions and poor leadership have Los Angeles in terrible position after half of the 2012-13 season. He also possesses the resources to help them turn it around moving forward.
At this point, Lakers fans can only hope.