LA Lakers: Jerry Buss' 15 Greatest Franchise-Altering Decisions

Joshua SextonSenior Analyst IISeptember 12, 2011

LA Lakers: Jerry Buss' 15 Greatest Franchise-Altering Decisions

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    When fans talk about some of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time, names such as Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson are inevitably and rightfully mentioned.

    But fans often forget to mention Jerry Buss, the man who is responsible for bringing all of those players and coaches to Los Angeles.

    Since becoming the owner of the Lakers in 1979, Buss has made many franchise-altering decisions that have helped the team win numerous championships.

    Here are Jerry Buss’ 15 greatest franchise-altering decisions.

15. Drafting A.C. Green

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    Think about this. A.C. Green helped Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar win two championships in the 1980s, in addition to helping Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant win one in 2000.

    Green, who was drafted by the Lakers out of Oregon State in 1985, spent nine of his 16 NBA seasons with the Lakers, missing only three total games in those nine seasons.  

    While Green’s numbers never jumped off the page, he proved to be a tough, consistent role player for two different Lakers dynasties.

14. Drafting Derek Fisher in 1996 and Re-Signing Him in 2007

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    Derek Fisher was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers out of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1996. Since then, Fisher has played a crucial role in the Lakers winning five championships.

    In the process, Fisher has become one of the most beloved Lakers in franchise history, best known for his timely three-point shooting and tough play.

13. Acquiring Robert Horry in 1996-97

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    I am sure when the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Robert Horry from the Phoenix Suns in the middle of the 1996-97 season, they had no idea what a crucial role Horry would play for the team down the road.

    During the Lakers’ run to three consecutive championships between 2000-2002, Horry hit numerous clutch baskets.

    The biggest, however, came against the Sacramento Kings in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals. Horry hit a shot as time expired, preventing the Lakers from falling into a 3-1 series deficit.

12. Acquiring Vlade Divac in 1989

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    Vlade Divac proved to be an above-average center for the Los Angeles Lakers, bridging the gap between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal.

    In his seven years with the franchise, Divac averaged 10 points and eight rebounds per game.

    But Divac’s biggest claim to fame with the Lakers didn’t come on the basketball court. Divac will always be known as the player who was traded for Kobe Bryant. Who knows—without Vlade, there is a possibility Kobe may have never played for the Lakers.

11. Signing Ron Artest in 2009

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    After the Los Angeles Lakers won their first of back-to-back championships in 2009, Trevor Ariza signed with the Houston Rockets, leaving a huge hole at the small forward position.

    To fill the void, Jerry Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers signed Ron Artest. While Artest may not seem like a “franchise-altering” acquisition on the surface, let’s take a look.

    Combine Artest’s buzzer-beater against the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the 2010 Western Conference finals and his performance against the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, and it’s fair to make the argument the Lakers wouldn’t have won the 2010 championship without the mercurial forward.

10. Acquiring Mychal Thompson in 1987

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    Jerry Buss helped bring Mychal Thompson to the Los Angeles Lakers in February of 1987. Thompson, the 6'10" center out of the University of Minnesota, was brought to Los Angeles in hopes of helping Kareem-Abdul Jabbar slow down the Boston Celtics’ talented frontcourt duo of Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

    The acquisition paid off. Thompson played stellar defense against McHale, who he played college basketball with at Minnesota, helping the Lakers defeat the Celtics in the 1987 NBA Finals.

9. Acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008

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    In February of 2008, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies after Andrew Bynum went down with a season-ending knee injury.

    Gasol helped the Lakers win back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 with his consistent play in the low post.

8. Drafting Andrew Bynum in 2005

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    The Los Angeles Lakers selected Andrew Bynum with the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft. While Bynum is more famous for his knee injuries and being mentioned in trade rumors than his overall production on the court, the young center has shown flashes of brilliance.

    The way I see it, Bynum will either blossom into a superstar or likely end up being traded for a superstar. Either way, Bynum will end up being looked at as a franchise-altering acquisition.

7. Drafting James Worthy in 1982

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    With the first overall pick in the 1982 draft, Jerry Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers selected James Worthy from the University of North Carolina.

    Worthy helped the Lakers win three championships in the 1980s, proving to be the perfect complement to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.

    Worthy made seven All-Star teams as a member of the Lakers, including winning the NBA Finals MVP award in 1988.

6. Hiring Jerry West as General Manager in 1982

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    Despite all of the all-time great players Jerry Buss is credited with helping bring to the franchise, one of his best decisions as owner of the team was hiring former Lakers great Jerry West as the team’s general manager in 1982. West remained the team’s general manager until 2002.

    West has received just as much credit as Buss throughout the years for some of the franchise’s more successful decisions, including bringing together Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson to build the team’s dynasty in the early 2000s.

5. Naming Pat Riley as Coach in 1981

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    Six games into the 1981-82 season, Jerry Buss named Pat Riley the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers after firing Paul Westhead.

    Riley led the team to the 1982 championship, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.

    Riley won four championships with the Lakers during their 1980s “Showtime” dynasty.

4. Hiring Phil Jackson as Coach in 1999

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    Phil Jackson was hired as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1999 after winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls.

    Jackson’s impact was immediately felt, as he led the Lakers to the championship in his first season as coach.

    Jackson retired last spring, having won five championships and seven conference titles with the Lakers.

3. Signing Shaquille O'Neal in 1996

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    In the summer of 1996, Shaquille O’Neal became a free agent after spending the first four years of his career with the Orlando Magic.

    The Los Angeles Lakers signed O’Neal to a seven-year deal, instantly making them a trendy pick to win the NBA title.

    O’Neal eventually led the Lakers to three straight championships (2000-2002), winning three consecutive NBA Finals MVP awards in the process.

2. Acquiring Kobe Bryant in 1996

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    On draft day 1996, Jerry Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for Kobe Bryant.

    The rest is ancient history. Bryant has been awing basketball fans the last 15 seasons, helping the team win five championships in addition to becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in February of 2010.

1. Drafting Magic Johnson in 1979

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    When Jerry Buss took over as owner of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979, he was instrumental in the team drafting Magic Johnson out of Michigan State University. Jerry West, who was then coaching the team, wanted to draft Sidney Moncrief out of Arkansas.

    Magic Johnson led the Lakers to a championship in his rookie season—the first of five Johnson would bring to the City of Angels.

    Magic is widely recognized as the most popular, most successful Laker in franchise history.

    Drafting Magic certainly wasn’t a bad way for Buss to start his tenure as owner of the Lakers.