My ears perked up on the drive home from practice when I heard Jim Buss was going to be calling in to 570-AM this afternoon. Buss is his fathers designated successor when it comes to basketball operations; Jeanie Buss will run the business side of things.
We had an opportunity to sit down with Jim, whose official title is vice president of player personnel, in the summer of 2005. Jerry Buss met with the beat writers before he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame back in October.
Here are some of the highlights of the 20-minute interview. Probably the most newsworthy comment came at the end, when Buss suggested that the Lakers are poised to make a major free-agent signing in the future.
“Those things start way before a player becomes available, Buss said. “Everything we do is planning to be in a position if you can get an All-Star-caliber player to help your team go to the next level. You have to have it planned out years before.
Buss set a timetable for the Lakers of making a major acquisition within the two seasons after this one. The Lakers already have $58 million committed for next season which is either right at or over the projected salary cap.
That doesnt take into account what they would spend to re-sign Luke Walton, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm or Shammond Williams. They could upgrade using the $5.5 million midlevel exception available to all teams and are free to make whatever trades they can.
“Mitch (Kupchak) is very good at watching the cap and so am I, Buss said. “We have a plan to move forward and when somebody drops the ball and drops one of their All-Star players, were there to get them. You don’t go over the cap like some of these other teams and be mediocre. That’s like the cardinal sin in my book….
What you do is you manage your money until you can spend it on the right thing. And it will happen. It will happen maybe next year or the year after but its going to happen. And when that happens, then we go right back to winning championships.
This comment will do nothing to quell speculation that the Lakers expect Kevin Garnett to either force a trade or opt out of his contract in the coming years. Garnett can opt out after next season but he would be walking away from $24 million
Weve also heard this talk about two- and three-year plans before. The Lakers were maintaining flexibility to sign Amare Stoudemire, Yao Ming or LeBron James in recent summers before all three players opted to re-sign with the teams that drafted them.
The Lakers have only three players (Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic and Brian Cook) signed for the 2009-10 season, when they could have a chunk of cap space after Lamar Odoms contract expires. Keep in mind that Andrew Bynum is up for an extension that could pay him $10 million or more beginning in that season.
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Buss also took issue with the Shaquille ONeal deal being the so-called “worst trade in the history of sports.
“Youve got to look at it as, well, yes for the first two years, Buss said. “No for the many years afterwards because weve got to put ourselves in a position to get a player like that.
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Buss on whether he thinks the Lakers can win a championship with the current roster:
“The way I look at it is I believed last year this current roster could win it this year. The way things are going, its going to be very difficult because we didnt home court. Wed have to go through Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio – - all three of them – - to get to the Finals.
“If we had played without the injuries that we sustained, then I think we would have had a home-court advantage and we wouldnt have had such a tough road to get to. And yes, I would believe this team is good enough.
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Buss on Bynums development:
“As far as Andrew Bynum is concerned with me, he is still ahead of the curve that I wanted him to be on. Were missing a (competitive) fire but hes 19 years old, hes learning the game, hes getting banged around.
“Even Kurt Rambis had told me last year, when this guy gets banged around enough, hell start to get angry and thats when his fire will come up.
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Buss on Radmanovics snowboarding accident and the resulting $500,000 fine:
“If we voided the contract, I think it would have been a large legal battle, and we never thought of doing that.
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By Ross Siler
EL SEGUNDO–In the three seasons he has played for Phil Jackson, Lakers forward Luke Walton said he never had seen his coach as furious as he was Wednesday the morning after an inexcusable loss to Memphis.
“The thing is, he doesnt get angry that much, Walton said. “I mean, Im sure he does inside but hes always trying to stay on that middle ground. You could see in his face he was really upset yesterday.
Jackson blistered the Lakers for giving away a game to the Grizzlies in the middle of a playoff push. He sent his players home early, telling them to get away from the game, with orders to return Thursday ready to work.
The true test wont come until tonights game against Houston, but Jackson said the team had a good practice. Jackson also framed the Memphis game for his players as letting down the coaches, the fans and themselves with their lack of effort.
“We talked about how you motivate each other in a ballgame, Jackson said. “I felt the leadership to drive our team was missing because Kobe (Bryant) was missing his shots and no one else was willing to step up or take that action.
Bryant said Jacksons words had gotten through. The Lakers still lead Denver by 2 1-2 games for sixth in the Western Conference standings with 11 games to play.
“I think guys came back today ready to practice, Bryant said. “We had a good practice today and hopefully itll translate over to the game.
Proven commodity: Even though he admits that an ankle injury probably took him out of the running, Walton appreciates being mentioned as a candidate for the NBAs Most Improved Player. The Lakers have promoted Walton for the award in their game notes.
Walton went into the off-season knowing that he could showcase his range of skills if he could just shoot more consistently. A career 41.5 percent shooter his first three pro seasons, Walton has made 47.5 percent of his shots this season.
He has averaged 11.5 points (up from 5.0 last season), 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists while starting all 49 games in which he has played. His value to the team can be measured simply: the Lakers are 31-18 with Walton in the lineup and 7-15 without him.
Walton has been so indispensable that Jackson likened him to being the “yeast in bread for the way he encourages team play. For the time being, Walton is still trying to get back up to speed after missing 21 games with a sprained right ankle.
“Its still frustrating because I feel like I lost a lot of conditioning when I got hurt, Walton said. “My ankles still not strong enough to where I can constantly get in the lane and make aggressive plays, so its one of those things where I have to pick and choose.
Defensive minded: Bryant will have to earn every point tonight against a Houston team ranked second in the league in scoring defense and first in field-goal percentage defense. The Rockets give up 91 points a game and can use Shane Battier to guard Bryant.
“Theyre great contesting shots and getting into peoples bodies, Jackson said.
The Lakers are hopeful Kwame Brown will be able to overcome his injured ankle and give them minutes against Yao Ming. Brown went through half-court drills in practice, Jackson said.
Scoring king: Carmelo Anthony all but conceded Bryant his second consecutive scoring title, telling the Denver Post: “If he’s going out there throwing in 65 points like that, he can have it. It’s all fun and games winning the scoring title. It’s an individual accolade.”
Bryant is averaging 30.8 points to Anthonys 29.0. Jackson suggested last week that an exchange with Anthony during the Lakers March 15 loss at Denver provided some of the motivation for Bryants headline-making run of 50- and 60-point games.