Well, the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers might not be as patient as we thought.
Part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss gave himself a couple of years to turn around the franchise and pledged to vacate his post if he fell short in that pursuit.
It happened during a Buss family meeting in the winter, he told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. The executive set the bar incredibly high for the Lakers and tied his future to reaching that goal:
I was laying myself on the line by saying, 'If this doesn't work in three to four years, if we're not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed.' I don't know if you can fire yourself if you own the team … but what I would say is I'd walk away and you guys figure out who's going to run basketball operations because I obviously couldn't do the job.
This might be music to the collective ears of Laker Nation, but it sounds a bit optimistic—if not outright impossible—given the current state of the franchise.
The Lakers just wrapped up their worst season (27-55) since arriving in L.A. before the 1960-61 campaign. They set a franchise record for most losses in a single season and posted their second-lowest winning percentage of all time (.329).
Their immediate future is tied to 35-year-old Kobe Bryant and 40-year-old Steve Nash. Those two players, who made just 16 combined appearances in 2013-14, are owed $33.2 million of the $35 million on the Lakers' payroll for next season, via ShamSports.com.
Amazingly, the health of those aging veterans might actually be among the smallest questions facing the organization moving forward.
L.A. has an empty-canvas roster to fill but may delay making a free-agent splash until the summer of 2015, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding. One of those spots could go to a player near the top of the 2014 draft lottery—the Lakers have a 21.5 percent chance of getting a top-three pick, via Tankathon.com—but general manager Mitch Kupchak said there's a chance his team could flip the pick in a trade, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:
Mitch Kupchak acknoweldged the Lakers might trade their first-round pick "I think there's a possibility"— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) April 18, 2014
The Lakers also have to determine the fate of head coach Mike D'Antoni. He has one guaranteed year left on his contract (plus a team option for 2015-16), but there's no guarantee he'll start next season on the sideline. Sources told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that Bryant has "no interest" in spending another year under D'Antoni.
L.A. has different avenues available on the road back to relevance, but it's unclear which one it will decide to take.
If there's been a prevailing theme in the Lakers' rebuilding process, it's been the importance of patience. Kupchak stressed it again during a press conference Friday.
"There is a degree of patience here,” the executive said, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “It’s not like we’ve worked four years to create financial flexibility and now no matter what, on (July 8), we’re going to spend it all or use it all."
That's what makes Buss' comments a bit perplexing. Why tie himself to a narrow window when the franchise seems to think it might take a while to start playing for something of prominence again?
Buss said his vow was based in confidence.
"There's no question in my mind we will accomplish success," he said, via Bresnahan. "I'm not worried about putting myself on the line."
History says Buss doesn't need to worry.
This franchise's recovery ability has been nothing short of remarkable. The Lakers have only missed the playoffs three times since 1976.
Past performance, of course, is no guarantee of future success. If Buss learns that the hard way, his words could send him to the NBA unemployment line.