At 51 years old, Jim Buss now has his hand firmly on the controls of the most powerful franchise in Los Angeles. After years of moving behind the scenes, he’s now in charge of day-to-day operations despite being a mysterious figure to fans.
His father, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, was known as a shrewd poker player but he loved to be seen as the center of attention. Jim Buss is the opposite as the baseball cap wearing figure who barely gets noticed.
He’s barely around the Lakers office as much as his father and has his actions do the talking. But what has he said so far? Let’s look at what the younger Buss has done, starting with hiring former Coach of the Year Mike Brown.
There’s no shame in bringing in Brown, a defensive-minded coach who’s known as a likable figure. But the shame comes from not consulting his most important player on his team, Kobe Bryant.
You don’t have to cater to one particular player in making basketball decisions. But if anybody’s opinion was worth listening to, it’s Bryant who probably deserved to have a say in who will coach his last years.
Brown isn’t a bad hire so to speak but the lack of respect for Bryant or perhaps Derek Fisher’s opinion is not a good sign. There was also a lack of respect for assistant coach Brian Shaw, who many assumed would take over.
Shaw didn’t find out he was passed over as head coach until he saw the news on ESPN. After 12 years of helping the team win five rings as a player and assistant coach, that’s far from the classy rejection he deserved.
He went on to become an assistant with the Indiana Pacers, but he can be considered one of the lucky ex-Lakers employees who landed on their feet.
This summer, 20 employees—most of whom were tied to Phil Jackson—were fired or saw their contracts run out without a guarantee. Former assistant general manager Ronnie Lester, who has been with the team for 24 years, has publicly criticized the way the team has handled these dismissals.
There’s an obvious failure to communicate between Buss and those underneath him. It’s troubling as fans try to figure out what his plans for the team are. The only thing they know is that he loves Andrew Bynum, the high-potential, injury risk that he pushed to draft back in 2005.
Under no circumstance has Buss expressed any desire to trade Bynum. While I personally feel Bynum should remain a Laker, placing him on the trading block would add to his motivation to prove he’s ready to build on his strong finish to last season.
Buss’ father famously cast his lot with a 20-something named Magic Johnson and that was a partnership that blossomed on and off the court. Now the son is trying to do the same with Bynum, a far less proven commodity that Magic was. That blind loyalty could prove to be his downfall unless Bynum pans out.
What does this all mean? It’s a classic case of the son trying to make his own name by shaking up his father’s empire regardless of who gets burned. Change is good but when it’s drastic, it often has dire consequences down the road.
The jury’s still out on Buss but midway through his first summer taking full control, we can make the following assessment. He hasn’t ruined the Lakers, but he hasn’t shown much to give fans hope that he’ll do what’s best for the franchise.
At a time when Los Angeles needs an owner to rally behind, there’s no reason to say yet that Jim Buss is that guy.