Speaking with Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News ahead of his team’s showdown with the Boston Celtics Monday night, Cuban—Dallas Mavericks owner, basketball impresario, cultural bon vivant—waxed schadenfreude on the plight of his seemingly rudderless rivals:
Jerry Buss was the Lakers, so I don’t know if the Lakers will ever be the Lakers. I don’t think there was a smarter owner in the history of the NBA than Jerry Buss. So that’s tough to replace. I don’t think people realize just how good an owner Jerry was.
To his credit—and against his Laker-hating nature—Cuban went on to laud Buss' unique brand of leadership for helping shape his own perspective:
He just understood fans, entertainment, players, how to balance all of it together, how to deal with the NBA, when to listen to David (Stern), when to ignore him, when to tell him what to do. He had that breadth of skills that every time I spoke to him – usually I’m the one who does all the talking, it’s just a force of habit. But when we sat down, I did all the listening. I don’t think there’s any question he was by far the best owner in the history of the NBA.
The Lakers are a hot mess, of course: Poised to finish with the team’s worst record in decades, L.A.’s last week has seen former coach Phil Jackson resurrect his career with the New York Knicks, its star player trash-talking his own teammates and, well, more losses. Always more losses.
Cuban clearly sees what many others have already insinuated: Lakers ownership, led by Jim Buss, hasn’t quite figured out the best way forward for the franchise.
After all, the team just got done handing Bryant a two-year, $48.5 million extension, leaving it in the precarious position of banking on both a meteoric draft pick and free-agent largesse to steward the Lakers through the next few seasons.
Cuban probably thinks this is a tremendous waste of money. And in some ways, he’d be right.
At the same time, the Lakers—by dint of locale as well as legacy—are one of the few North American sports franchises to which money doesn’t mean as much as it might to, say, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Cuban knows this, of course. Which is why his comments ought to be appreciated not merely as financial analyses, but as a means of ribbing a long-reviled rival.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Back in November 2012, Cuban, per ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon, lambasted the Lakers for what he saw as their ill-fated approach to roster construction. Spoiler alert: He was right.
At a news conference to introduce the Mavs' newcomers in September, Cuban discounted the Lakers' high-profile acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, pointing out that L.A. failed to win a title after adding Karl Malone and Gary Payton before the 2003-04 season. Cuban noted that it takes ‘great chemistry’ to win a championship and questioned whether all the Lakers ‘wanted to be there.’
So, yeah, expect this stuff to continue for a while. With his Mavs squarely in the playoff race and L.A. biding its misery until the lottery, Cuban's not liable to dismount from this high horse any time soon.
If there’s any solace to be taken by Lakers fans, however, it’s that his slings and barbs might eventually wake a sleeping beast.
Count the banners, Cubes.