It seems as though we're headed down a slippery slope in the Los Angeles Lakers' front office.
The franchise was in great hands under Dr. Jerry Buss, but with two of his six children now in extremely prominent positions, the Lakers are having a tougher time flourishing.
Jeanie Buss is the executive vice president of the Purple and Gold, while her brother, Jim, is the executive vice president of player personnel. And as most siblings are wont to do, they can occasionally butt heads.
Maybe that just rings true for families in which the sister is named Jeanie and the brother tends to get what he wants. Yes, I'm referring to Jeanie and Ferris Bueller.
Recently, Jim and Jeanie just haven't seemed to be on the same page, and that's problematic for the Lakers organization. L.A. has already lost a marquee free agent and needs to get things straightened out before the eventual restocking (not rebuilding) process sprawls.
Dwight Howard Situation
While there was technically no dig at Jim, there was.
It's not hard to read between the lines of Jeanie's recent statements about how her father could have kept Dwight Howard in L.A.
They would've probably had a better relationship if my dad hadn't been sick. When it came time to try to convince Dwight to stay, we lost the best closer in the business in Dr. Buss. Putting up the billboard maybe wasn't the right thing. But we maybe have to learn to do things differently because Dr. Buss isn't here anymore. People said [of the billboards], 'Oh, that's not the Laker way.' Well, the Laker way isn't the same, because Dr. Buss isn't here.
While she isn't directly taking a jab at her brother, you can see how it wouldn't be hard for him to interpret her statement as such.
Jeanie is essentially implying that Jim and Dwight didn't have a good relationship. Jim isn't the best closer. He made a bad decision with the billboard and he's changing the "Laker way."
Shots fired, even if there was a muffler used.
But this is by no means the first time the two siblings have engaged in a bit of understated bickering.
Phil Jackson Problem
In 2009, long before the current generation of Busses took over the team, Jeanie offered a bit of foreshadowing in an interview with the Los Angeles Times Magazine:
I've seen what happens with other teams in other leagues that are in our situation. I know we live in an age when conflict sells newspapers, and people like to hear about siblings fighting. It makes for interesting media. But we've all found our place. We know how much we can help each other, and we all want the same thing.
She's completely right, as sex and conflict sell. But it doesn't always have to be manufactured; Jeanie and Jim are doing a fantastic job of giving people fodder to work with.
Take the situation brother and sister faced early on in the 2012-13 season when Mike Brown was fired and the search was on for a new coaching candidate. The following comes from an article by Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:
Well...Jeanie and Jim aren't speaking to each other.
They haven't since Mike Brown was fired as Lakers coach in early November and the Lakers went through that unseemly, confusing, hurtful dance with Phil Jackson—the love of Jeanie's life and now her fiancé—before hiring Mike D'Antoni.
Whenever the sad day comes when the team has to be handed down to the Buss children, things promise to get even uglier.
Well, the sad day has arrived and passed, and the Buss children are in charge. They may be speaking now, but this Phil Jackson fiasco is still lingering in the back of everyone's minds. And now that the 2013-14 season doesn't appear to be particularly promising, prominent figures are starting to speak out about the dynamic.
Snoop Dogg Lion isn't known as a basketball mind by any stretch of the imagination, but that didn't stop him from speaking out at a Playboy event:
Snoop Dogg is at a Playboy event and made one thing clear about the Lakers: "Put Jeanie in charge and we'll be all right."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) July 16, 2013
Ironically enough, it was Playboy that thrust Jeanie into a bit of controversy back in 1995, when she posed for the magazine on her father's desk.
In an interview with Lakers Nation's Serena Winters, new assistant coach Kurt Rambis spoke on the dynamic as well:
"Jim and Jeanie are doing a much better job of understanding their duties and responsibilities of this organization, and just having to take over the real leadership and responsibilities of this organization," Rambis said.
Again, let's read between the lines.
"A much better job..."
Doesn't that imply that they weren't doing very well beforehand? Rambis was clearly trying to be politically correct and get on his bosses' good side, but he also managed to accidentally dig up some dirt on their past together. Well, I'm assuming it was accidental.
As Jim and Jeanie try to sync, two huge problems have emerged that could prevent the Lakers from truly flourishing during the newest Buss era.
Even if you don't have any siblings to bicker with, you've surely had a spat with one of your best friends. Think back to a time that one of those disagreements dragged on longer than normal. And again, use an example with a sibling if you can draw from personal experience.
When you're in one of those nonsensical arguments, you tend to make decisions that you wouldn't otherwise. You aren't deciding something just for yourself, but also because you have ulterior motives. You want to do something to spite the other person.
For example, my brother (Jason) and I would always get in minor disputes on family vacations while growing up. For some reason, it always happened on Fridays. Competitive situations just led to contention between two individuals who love winning.
And that meant that when we were deciding where to go out for dinner Saturday night and took a family vote, I'd always wait until Jason cast his ballot and then vote against him. It didn't matter if I hated the restaurant that I was voting for, simply because I didn't want Jason to get his way.
Was that the mature thing to do? Of course not, but it felt so good.
Eventually, even if the situation was rather minor, we could see a similar story unfold for Jim and Jeanie Buss.
Except they wouldn't be deciding which restaurant to visit, but rather which coach to hire or which player to sign out of free agency. Under those circumstances, the organization can't afford to bicker.
The front office has to make the best decision for basketball reasons, even if Lakers nation hates that phrase.
Lack of Appeal
The bigger problem is that any disputes between the two siblings could result in a diminished level of appeal going forward.
Why would a marquee free agent voluntarily put himself in a situation where two bosses are bickering and constantly butting heads? That makes the future more of a question mark, and certainty is always more appealing than its antithesis.
For some teams, this would be an obstacle able to be overcome, just a minor roadblock along the path to success. But the Lakers are different than most other franchises.
They rely on building championship-winning squads through free agency.
The Lakers don't have to worry about finding gems in the draft or even making good first-round selections because A) they're always competitive and B) they have more appeal than any other location once a player hits the open market.
Sibling rivalry diminishing the brand's appeal wouldn't just throw a wrench in the plans; it would throw an entire Home Depot in the way.
For proof, just look at the upcoming 2014 offseason.
L.A. isn't particularly worried about the 2013-14 season because it knows that the books are clearing after the eventual elimination—which will either come right after 82 games or shortly thereafter. The Lakers aren't interested in some long, grueling rebuild. They plan to turn things around immediately.
If LeBron James doesn't come to Tinseltown, then surely Carmelo Anthony will, and other stars will join him. While that statement is by no means grounded in fact, it does accurately represent the mentality of the Lakers.
Members of the front office are accustomed to the brand being forthright in making a pitch. Take Dwight's experience with the championship trophies as an example, courtesy of Shelburne:
He told a story of meeting him last August, soon after he was traded from Orlando, where he was genuinely surprised the 16 championship trophies that are in her office were in fact real. Buss laughed and said, "Of course they're real."
Howard explained that during the 2009 NBA Finals, then-Magic coach Stan Van Gundy caught him staring up at the trophies during a practice and told him, "'Those aren't real. Those are just props. Don't pay attention to those, they're not real.'" And so that's why he thought Buss' weren't real.
Will the Lakers flourish under Jim and Jeanie?
Again, the Lakers are just different than other organizations, and that's exactly why any squabble between Buss kin can't become as tangible as the trophies.
The franchise's appeal matters too much. Nothing can be allowed to tarnish it, or else the whole organizational plan goes haywire.
It's time for the subtle insults to end. It's time for brother and sister to remain on speaking terms and start seeing eye to eye.
More than anything else, it's time for them to channel their inner Jerry.