“There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish … it was so fragile, and I fear that it will not survive the winter.”
You might not think so, but this quote from the 2000 blockbuster Gladiator starring Russell Crowe, could just as easily have been said about the end of the Lakers Empire as it could the end of the Roman one.
In fact, looking back at that movie, it seems as if this newest Laker drama was taken directly from that script.
Think about it for a second.
Dr. Jerry Buss as Marcus Arelius, the old, dying Caesar, eager to ensure that the empire he has built with his own two hands continues after he is gone. It seems he is more concerned with his legacy than he is with the empire he leaves behind. Will he be remembered as the greatest owner in sports history?
Jim Buss as Commicus, the heir apparent, eager to rule and to prove he is every bit the owner his father was.
Brash and impetuous, he cares more about stepping out of his father’s shadow than of preserving all that his father has fought to gain. Will his ambition guide the empire back to greatness or tear it apart piece-by-piece?
Jeanie Buss as Lucilla, the daughter that would have been Caesar, if only she was born a man.
And Kobe Bean Bryant as Maximus Decimus Meridius, the defender of the kingdom, broken and tired from one too many battles, and asking the empire he has served so loyally for the opportunity to return home and remain in the familiar confines of the triangle offense.
There's an old saying that all roads lead to Rome. Well, with the decision to hire former Cleveland Cavalier head coach and now ESPN analyst Mike Brown as the next Laker coach, the Buss Family, or more directly Jim Buss, has made clear his intention on the direction he intends to take his team. And that direction is as far away from Rome as any of these roads will take him.
Alas, dear Laker fans the winter is here and it appears that Rome is burning.
Taken by itself, the hiring of Brown is neither good nor bad and we won’t know for certain how it will play out until the end of next season. Brown is an excellent coach with a winning record and a penchant for getting the most out of his teams, especially on the defensive end. He is from the Greg Popovich and Rick Carlisle school of coaching and consistently had the Cleveland Cavaliers competing as one of the top teams in the league.
What’s troubling, however, is the manner by which the next Laker coach was chosen.
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Mitch Kupchak has since gone on public radio and claimed this was a unanimous decision made by himself, Jerry and Jim Buss. However, he also mentioned that in the end, the owner always has the final say.
That owner is no longer Jerry Buss. Instead, we are left with his son, whom insiders say assumed up to 80 percent of all daily business decisions as recently as last year.
Kupchak himself admitted that he was out of town at a pre-draft camp while this decision was finalized and his long-time assistant and apparent replacement, Ronni Lester was being let go.
Word was also handed down that all advanced scouts, video coordinators, members of the training staff, and even lovable, longtime equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas, who along with head athletic trainer Gary Vitti has been with the team since the Showtime era, was also being shown the door.
Brown’s hiring also has immediate implications for the assistant coaches, chief among them is Brian Shaw, who were also handed their walking papers.
Then there was the franchise star, or perhaps “former” franchise star, Kobe Bryant. He was quoted as being “surprised” by the hiring of Mike Brown and was apparently not consulted.
What does it say, when the most important person in the franchise is not even given a phone call to inform him of the coaching change?
What does it say about Bryant’s future with the team?
What does it say to the rest of the members of a squad that had been to the last three NBA finals before this year?
It indicates that major changes are on the way. It indicates that Jim Buss is now calling the shots. And it may also mean that Andrew Bynum has just replaced Kobe Bryant as the franchise’s cornerstone.
With one swipe of his hand Jim Buss has thrust us all into the Jim Buss Era. He has wiped away any chance of a smooth transition from Phil Jackson’s team and of keeping the current group of players in the championship hunt.
And it doesn’t appear he is through.
Word is already leaking out that Bynum will be untouchable in any trade talks that arise.
And with Brown and Bynum, Buss now has his guys in the franchise.
It is with them his loyalties lie.
It is with them that his legacy as an owner begins.
Where that leaves Bryant and the rest of the team is a question only Jim Buss can answer.
This current era of the Los Angeles Lakers has always been so fragile. Much like the knees of Andrew Bynum, it seems its legs have finally given out. Or, more to the point that the carpet has been pulled out from underneath them.
If you would have asked me what the biggest opposition this team faced going into next season, I probably would have answered father time and the lack of a quick, athletic roster. Probably in that order.
Never would I have guessed their biggest adversary came from their own ownership.
Gone is the once great Caesar who left the basketball decisions to his basketball people.
Gone is the coach who won five titles matching the Showtime Era and who, as he mentioned, hadn’t spoken to ownership in some time.
And gone may be the Lakers Empire as we once knew it.
“Strength and honor,” Maximus would often say throughout the movie. To the Laker fans who are still reeling from the arrival of this new Laker’s owner, and with the whirlwind entrance he has just made, I say “patience and faith,” there’s still a chance he has some of his father in him yet.