Kobe Bryant might have lost all but six games of this season to Achilles and knee injuries in his left leg, but his finger is working just fine.
He's placed it directly on the pulse of the Los Angeles Lakers and come back with a clear vision of exactly what ails this franchise. The Lakers can't start back up on the path to relevance without proper direction from the team's ruling family.
"I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team," Bryant said during a press conference last week, via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "What kind of culture do we want to have? What kind of system do we want to have? ... It starts there and from there, you can start building out your team accordingly."
In that case, the Lakers are still sitting in the starting blocks. Executive vice president Jim Buss and team president, Jim's sister, Jeanie Buss have yet to find a common ground since assuming control of the franchise after their father, longtime Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, passed away last February.
"You got to start with Jim," Bryant said, per McMenamin, filling in the blanks for anyone left in the dark by his initial words. "You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority."
Messages are rarely sent this directly in professional sports, but this one came with flashing lights and trumpets announcing its arrival. These poignant words have apparently already been received.
Jeanie Buss, speaking with Lakers broadcaster Bill McDonald (h/t B/R's Josh Martin), has since answered Bryant's call for action:
Without a subsequent sign-off from Jim, though, this remains a house divided.
Fractured leadership can't repair a fractured franchise.
Trapped in a downward spiral that has the Lakers facing their worst season since arriving in L.A. prior to the start of the 1960-61 campaign, there is no road to a rapid recovery. This team will attempt to build a contender out of aging talent (Bryant, Steve Nash), unproven commodities (any pulls from the 2014 draft) and gobs of cap space the front office feels may be better invested in the 2015 free-agent crop.
There is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. With a slew of superstars set to enter free agency in the coming years and this draft class housing both top-heavy talent and depth, this appears to be the perfect time to rebuild.
But that light is flickering. This ownership is operating like an overloaded outlet, an abundance of talking heads unable to produce a collective voice.
"Any organization—business, politics, sports—would struggle with instability after losing a gold-standard visionary, and it's all the worse when Jeanie (with business) and Jim (with basketball) remain fundamentally at odds as the ones their father left in charge," B/R's Kevin Ding wrote.
The Lakers can't expect to build anything without first establishing a common ground on which to assemble something of significance.
History says this won't be easy.
Just last summer, Jim and Jeanie weren't even on speaking terms, per Ding (then with the Orange County Register). Their relationship had been splintered by the decision of Jim and general manager Mitch Kupchak to hire Mike D'Antoni as Lakers coach in 2012 instead of Phil Jackson—Jeanie's fiance and the man responsible for guiding the franchise to its last five titles—a move Jeanie dubbed "a betrayal" in her memoir Laker Girl, via the Los Angeles Times.
There's plenty of bad blood to clean up, a process that must be completed before the franchise can undergo its badly needed cleansing.
The Lakers need more talent. Their 22-44 record hammers that point home.
They need to either formulate their roster around D'Antoni's style or find a coach better equipped to take advantage of the pieces on hand. Bryant would reportedly opt for the latter, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News. Pau Gasol, assuming he re-signs over the summer, seems like he'd welcome a sideline change as well.
The franchise must decide if its upcoming lottery pick should be cashed in on draft night or flipped on the trade market for a veteran player. Conventional wisdom says it's always wise to plan for the future, but it offers no direction for a team with $48.5 million committed to a 35-year-old whose body is breaking down like never before.
There are decisions to be made, legacies to be written, standards to be upheld, a billion-dollar brand to protect—all of them waiting for a single response from a split executive staff.
Until a commonality is reached, the Lakers have nothing. Nothing other than a disgruntled superstar desperately seeking a final taste of championship bliss, at least.
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