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Can Hopeless Lakers Fans Inspire Team While Protesting Lack of Leadership?

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterMay 11, 2019

Los Angeles Lakers President & Governor Jeanie Buss, attends the NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, Sunday, March 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. The 76ers won 118-116. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — It started with a post on Reddit, a plan to protest the Los Angeles Lakers and the team's direction. On Friday, over 100 people gathered outside of Staples Center for an hour in a disorganized but passionate nonviolent outcry over the state of the franchise.

"Hire LaVar Ball," yelled one of the students from Calabasas High School, skipping class for the day.

"I'm missing physics right now," exclaimed one of his classmates. "I'd rather be doing this."

"This is a dream come true," said diehard Los Angeles Clippers fan Clipper Darrell, who crashed the Lakers' party. "I can't believe how the tables have turned in L.A."

Yes, there was plenty of nonsense worth ignoring. The Ball quote borders on violence to the senses, but within the group of diehard fans were some sound, rational arguments on the Lakers and their seeming lack of direction.

"[Owner] Jeanie Buss will not listen to us directly, but she'll listen to you guys. She hates bad press," Santa Monica College student Austin Geller said. "She is a marketing 101 [expert]. It's all she lives for, and bad press is the worst thing you can have as a businessman or woman."

A third of the crowd consisted of curious onlookers and gawkers (some from the Clippers' nearby office), and the number of protesters probably equaled the media members. But that's why the event was ultimately a success.

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"Everyone is aware of it," someone in the Lakers front office said of the protest. "It's being reported everywhere."

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

The team has come under fire in recent days after contract negotiations with potential head coach Tyronn Lue fell through. Earvin "Magic" Johnson stepped down from his position of president of basketball operations on the final day of the regular season, announcing the move before telling LeBron James or Buss personally.

"That's on Jeanie Buss and [general manager] Rob Pelinka," Geller said. "If you're going to sign LeBron to a four-year [deal], you're practically handing over the franchise key to him, so why not hire a coach that he's comfortable playing with? Why dip your feet halfway in?"

Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player and longtime Lakers fan Flea wasn't at the protest, but on Thursday, he posted his thoughts on Instagram, writing, "There is a weakness, a malaise in the organization and it is breaking my heart."

That message seemed to hit home, and while some of the protestors Friday were demanding the Buss family sell the team, many fretted more about the lack of public communication.

Other than a couple of brief press releases and a Buss tweet last week after a dinner "catching up with @MagicJohnson," the Lakers have been relatively silent.

"Jeanie is allowing the media to run the narrative, and I don't think the media is wrong by the way, but show some leadership," copywriter Michael Anapolsky said Friday. "If you can imagine working for a company where the leader just hides in the room the whole time, letting rumors run rampant, that is not the way a leader should run a company—and we're talking about a $3 billion organization."

Calabasas student Jacob Samuel said: "The core problem is not establishing who is the leader. You don't know who is running the show. You don't know if it's Jeanie, you don't know [if it's Linda or Kurt Rambis], and then you don't know what Rob Pelinka is actually doing."

After Johnson's curtain call, the Lakers opened up their facility to the media the following day for exit interviews; except former head coach Luke Walton (still on the job, albeit briefly) and Pelinka were nowhere to be found. Fans are generally unaware of how Buss' special adviser, Linda Rambis, and her husband, Kurt, came into power.

"Kurt Rambis is playing a major role in the franchise's coaching search," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Wednesday. "He's emerging as a powerful voice in basketball operations."

"She needs to get real basketball heads who are outside of the family business now," recent law school graduate Amir Khan said. "Jeanie was the Mother of Dragons. Everyone loved her, but it's been a complete 180 just in the last month or so."

"I know she loves the Lakers. I know this is her life and she gives it her all. I want her to see everyone is giving her a bad name, a bad rep," he continued. "The evidence is showing that we're getting worse and worse. We can't close a deal with a coach."

"I agree with why fans are upset ... ever since they've signed LeBron, they've done everything correctly in how to mess up. It's wild," Cal State Long Beach journalism major Bryan Aparicio said. "You want to believe in this front office, even going back to the debacle a couple of days ago with Ty Lue. You had him, he celebrates with a cake, a Laker cake and it just doesn't happen."

So, what's the solution?

"Hire LaVar Ball."

No, seriously.

"Bob Myers from Golden State has done an excellent job," Samuel said.

"Myers, Masai Ujiri [of the Toronto Raptors] or Jerry West [with the Clippers]," Anapolsky answered.

"Jerry West is here; he's going to be a Clipper for life," Clipper Darrell boasted.

Barry Gutierrez/Associated Press

But if Myers or Ujiri agreed to come, would the fans be willing to give up their first-round pick in June's draft (roughly 11th) in compensation to the Warriors or Raptors?

"I would do that, easily. The first-round pick means nothing if it's not utilized properly," Samuel said.

"I wouldn't give up that pick, but that's kind of my point," Anapolsky explained. "I wish there were people smarter than me in the front office. And that's my issue. I don't think there are people that are smarter than me in the front office."

What if giving up the first-rounder got in the way of the Lakers acquiring Anthony Davis in trade from the New Orleans Pelicans?

"I feel like with a president like Masai, if we don't get AD, we still have somebody who knows about roster construction," Khan said. "We still have salary-cap space this summer. If we don't get AD because of the 10th or 11th pick, we still have a smart basketball mind in place."

A small protest is unlikely to lead to an ownership or leadership change, but the media coverage will put some pressure on the Lakers front office to at least communicate its position.

"If something as small as a Reddit post can get [the media] out here, I don't [know] if a difference will be made, but at least they'll be heard," Aparicio said.

"The team has to save face. We need stability more than anything," Anapolsky said. "I know signing a coach doesn't go against the salary cap, so all you're doing is being cheap. Five-year deals are kind of the standard now in the league. It's not my money, but if Jeanie can't afford it, then we desperately need an owner that has deep enough pockets."

"This summer is the answer for the next couple of years. We need to make something happen, so the next three years of LeBron's contract isn't a s--tshow," Khan said. "Buss cares about the fans. Her seeing this should hurt her a little bit. The people who are pissed are the ones that love the organization."

                                                          

Email Eric Pincus at mail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.

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