Buss interview

Jerry Buss sat down with beat reporters for his annual state of the team discussion before Sunday’s game against the Houston Rockets. The Lakers’ owner touched on a number of subjects during the 30-minute session, including his relationships with Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak. He said he hopes to face the Boston Celtics in the Finals again next June, but with a different outcome, of course.

Buss on retaining Bryant, who can opt out of his contract July 1:
“We really don’t address those issues until they come up because we don’t know what the environment is, but we can’t afford to lose Kobe. … I won’t take a look at it until we get there, or close to it. He’s a competitor. Kobe just wants to win as much as any human being in any sport ever, so I think he’s always going to be a little edgy and I think it’s really good. I don’t think he’ll be happy until he wins a few more championships. He only has a few rings and not as many as he would like.”

On his relationship with Bryant, who had asked to be traded in the summer of 2007:
“I think Kobe and I have always understood one thing about each other and that is our desire to win shapes our personality and especially in our dealings with each other. I think there’s always been respect independent of the fact that there have been moments of grief. I think deep down there has always been that respect level that I knew he was the most competitive of all the basketball players ever, and I think he understands that about me as an owner.”

On the four-year, $57.4-million contract extension the Lakers gave Andrew Bynum:
“I thought it was really fair. The question going in was what’s going to be fair to him and what’s going to be fair to us? We wrestled with that for a long time and finally came up with something very, very close to what eventually happened. I have to feel it was very fair to both sides, especially since we have him now because he could be one of the great ones.”

On the Lakers’ goals for the season:
“God willing, with everybody staying healthy and that type of thing, then I feel a championship is what we want. If we win the West this year, then we’ll have won it 15 times out of the last 30 years and that means all the other teams had it the other half. Although that’s pleasant, it’s not our objective. Our objective was to be world champions.”

On the Lakers’ connection with fans in Southern California:
“Maybe the love has waned here and there, but it’s always been pretty much there, and I’m happy about that.”

On beating the Celtics:
“One of the biggest reasons I bought the Lakers was to beat the Celtics. If you were a Lakers fan prior to my ownership and you saw the Celtics whip us so many times, and how close we came, one shot in one particular series. You just got it into your soul that you couldn’t stand the Celtics. And so, the biggest thrill of my life was not only when we beat the Celtics, but when we finished it off on their home floor (in 1985). That was something. I walked out, put a chair in the middle of the floor and lit up a cigar, and I don’t smoke cigars. The year we lost to them, (1984), that was probably the bitterest loss I’ve had with the Lakers, that was really a tough one to swallow.”

On last season’s loss to Boston:
“I’m not all together sure we had the best team. If everyone had been healthy, then probably we would have. But we were missing (Trevor) Ariza and Bynum (because of foot and knee injuries, respectively) and we had not played very many games together. The other team had played together for a while.

On Kupchak’s performance as GM:
“I’ve always been pleased with everything Mitch has done. There may seem to be ups and downs, but our relationship has never been up and down. It’s been totally steady. I meet with Mitch periodically. Everything we’ve tried to do, we’ve been able to accomplish within the bounds of the NBA rules. I’ve always been happy with Mitch.”

On Jackson’s future as coach of the Lakers:
“With this team, he may grow very old and still be the coach. I don’t see him going anywhere. It depends on him. This team looks like a delight and I don’t see anybody walking away from it. I won’t give you a number of years, but I have to think he’s going to stay longer than we would have imagined.”

On keeping the team together:
“We’re going to have to do what we have to do. I certainly don’t like paying the luxury tax, but if we have to do it, we will. And we have. You really can’t comment because there really is an economic cloud on the horizon. … We’re going to have to wait and see what this predicted recession is going to have on all of us. … My focus is totally on getting to the championship and winning it. Past that, I haven’t put my head to it. Ask me that after we win.”

More on his relationship with Bryant:
“I think Kobe very definitely understands how hard I made the effort to get sufficient talent to win. I was talking to him on the phone right as the Pau Gasol deal came through (last Feb. 1) and he said, ‘Wow, I can go win with this now.’ So, yeah, I think Kobe and I get along pretty well.”

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