Lakers News: Jeanie Buss Talks Russell Westbrook Trade, Play-In Tournament, More

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 18, 2021

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 22: President of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jeanie Buss speaks during the 2019-20 NBA Championship ring ceremony before the game against the LA Clippers on December 22, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers governor Jeanie Buss predicted fans will be happy about the return of California native and UCLA product Russell Westbrook to the L.A. area after they acquired him in a blockbuster trade with the Washington Wizards.

Buss explained to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic in an interview released Wednesday the Lakers front office knew a deal for Westbrook would create salary-cap and roster-building concerns, but they couldn't pass up the chance to bring him in alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

"You know we've got a big three now, and Russell is somebody that's from L.A., went to UCLA, and I think our fans are going to be just cuckoo for him, are going to be so happy that he's here. It's like the return of one of our own," she said.

In turn, Buss noted the 2020 NBA champions were able to "capitalize" on veteran players willing to sign for a reduced cost or the minimum in order to chase a title next season.

Along with Westbrook, the Lakers have added Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kendrick Nunn, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore and Malik Monk as part of a busy offseason. They also re-signed restricted free agent Talen Horton-Tucker, who should be ticketed for a bigger role during the 2021-22 campaign.

The question is whether the moves can help push Los Angeles to another championship after an injury-plagued year prevented the franchise from making a serious push for back-to-back titles.

James and Davis both missed significant portions of the 2020-21 season because of injury, which caused L.A. to tumble down the standings into the play-in tournament. It survived to qualify for the playoffs but was then eliminated in the first round by the eventual Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.

Buss told Kaplan she understands the "excitement" the play-in tournament creates, but she isn't a fan of how a top-eight team can lose it's playoff spot in the blink of an eye:

"If we would have lost two games, we wouldn't have been in the playoffs at all. And that's, that's a tough pill to swallow. When you've been in the top eight for the entire season. You never dropped out of the playoff position. But yet, you know, you can lose two games, and that's what happened to Golden State, they were at the eighth spot, and then they ended up losing to us and then to Memphis and they didn't make it in the playoffs. I could see where it's kind of fun for one game, but I don't want to diminish what happens in the regular season."

She added it doesn't serve as a deterrent to tanking as much as something like a potential loss of draft picks.

Meanwhile, Kaplan also asked Buss about the future of a one-franchise superstar like Kobe Bryant, who spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers before his 2016 retirement, given the high amount of player movement in the modern NBA:

"With Kobe to have played on one team for 20 years, I really don't think you're ever going to see that again. It's going to be very rare to see that. It's just the way the collective bargaining agreement is, it encourages a lot more movement than it did before. And I do think it's made the league more interesting, more balanced in increasing engagement in the offseason ... there were so many headlines [during the NBA's free agency period] that put us right up there with the Olympics going on."

Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, had both his Nos. 8 and 24 retired by the Lakers and was posthumously inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in May.

He was a foundational piece in five of the Lakers' 17 championships. They'll go for No. 18, which would break a tie with the Boston Celtics for the most by a single franchise in NBA history, with their new-look roster next season.