Below is a Q&A with Lakers president Jeanie Buss to two media outlets, including Los Angeles News Group, before the the Lakers’ All-Access event at Staples Center, hosted by the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission.
How would you evaluate the Lakers’ 2014-15 season so far?
Jeanie Buss: Our record doesn’t show what we’d like it to be. But I like what coach Byron Scott is doing and establishing. That takes time for players to learn how to play together. I see each game, there’s more and more confidence in the rhythm of the game with the first unit and second unit. He’s never really had everybody healthy at the same time. It was disappointing that Julius Randle was injured early in the season. It’s like every team dealing with injuries. But I believe in what he’s trying to do and I see improvement all the time. I support our front office. I support our coach. I support our players.”
What do you make of Magic Johnson’s recent comment that he wished the Lakers would lose every game so they have a better chance of keeping their top five draft pick this year?
Jeanie Buss: I asked somebody who was with Magic when he was at an event. I said, ‘How would Magic feel if he was on a team and someone would say, ‘Magic I wish your team would lose every game.”” So he asked him. Magic said, ‘If he were on the team, he wouldn’t be losing.’ That’s what you have to think. Do you think Kobe Bryant is capable of not trying 100 percent? That’s where it doesn’t make sense to me where tanking is a plan. It’s not a plan.”
But do you think that the current NBA lottery system entices teams, including the Lakers, to structure their roster in a way that puts a team less in a position to win so they have a better chance to get a high draft pick?
Jeanie Buss: “Our commissioner is looking at all things and taking a fresh look at the lottery and how that works and they’ve tweaked it over the years. If there’s a decision to vote on it for the board, certainly they’ll look at those kind of things. I understand the question. Our commissioner listens and he talks to every owner and I’m a member of the advisory committee and these things come into play. It requires the board to vote to make that kind of change.”
Now that you look back on how the Lakers have filled out their roster, was signing Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million extension the right decision to make?
Jeanie Buss: “I still think it was the best way to spend the money we had. There would be 90 percent of the teams in the NBA that would take Kobe Bryant for that amount of money. They have $24 million worth of players that they would gladly trade for Kobe Bryant. I stand behind that decision. In all fairness to Kobe, he took less money than he could have made under the collective bargaining agreement. That should be noted. I ask people, What would you have spent that money on if you didn’t spend it on Kobe Bryant?
Is that decision something Dr. Jerry Buss said to do before his passing? Did you come up with the idea? Or was this a collaborative idea you and the Lakers’ front office made?
Jeanie Buss: “I just think any team with Kobe Bryant on it is better. I wasn’t part of the negotiation. That’s to our front office. That’s to my brother and Mitch. I wasn’t in those discussions. But I’m in full support of having him on the team. That’ll be 20 years and we’re going to celebrate 20 years. I don’t think you’ll ever see that happen in the NBA. For a player to have a 20-year career and on one team is always amazing.”
After having a role for the first time in the Lakers’ free agency pitches, what do you take away from this summer without landing any of the marquee players? (Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of business operations Tim Harris flew to Cleveland to meet with LeBron James’ agent, Rich Paul. The Lakers also hosted a meeting for Carmelo Anthony, which Jeanie Buss attended. Still, James left the Miami Heat for the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Anthony stayed with the New York Knicks).
Jeanie Buss: “It was a new experience for me. I think we did a really good job. I think that the players that chose not to come here, I understand their decision process. I still think the Lakers are the best place to be. But that’s what I love about our league. Our players have an opportunity and point in our career to be free agents and then give everything in terms of their career for their basketball, personal life and who they want to live and who the want to play with. That’s great about the NBA.”
So is the Lakers’ ability to attract free agents not as strong as it was?
Jeanie Buss: “I think our fanbase and Laker Nation and the idea that any free agent would come here, Laker Nation would embrace them and would be immensely popular. We’re the No. 1 Web site and in social media in terms of a platform for a player. You couldn’t ask anything better than this with the dedication of our resources and all things basketball to make sure players get the best treatment, care and support and coaching and training facilities, everything. We don’t spare any expense in giving them what they need to be successful in their basketball career. The connections they can make in this town will lead them to a good basketball career and after. The story we can tell in terms of a destination. But it has to be the right fit and player for the organization.”
But talking to several players about the Lakers, they say that even if they had interest in coming to the Lakers that they seemed in a holding pattern on waiting out for the marquee players. And that hurt the team’s ability to build out the rest of the roster. Moving forward, will the Lakers have to take a better balance in still pursuing the marquee free agents while still doing enough to sign quality role players?
Jeanie Buss: “That becomes more of a complex issue on how to fit a roster. You can’t go and just get point guards. If you’re set in that position, you have to get something else. I leave that to our front office. But whatever tools they need to be successful, that’s my job. That’s to make sure they have everything they need to get what they want and their vision of Lakers basketball is fulfilled.”
Why did you get involved with the free agency process?
Jeanie Buss: “It’s important that especially for the high profile players, they know who the key players are in an organiation both on the basketball side and business side. That’s where I stand.”
How much involvement did you have?
Jeanie Buss: “I would do anything to help. If they don’t need me, then I won’t. I’m part of the overall message. But when it comes to basketball, they excuse me from the rooms. I’m not part of the basketball discussion.”
How would you characterize what your relationship is like right now with Jim?
Jeanie Buss: “I think we have our comfort level in terms of he’s doing and what his strengths are and I support him. He knows that whatever he needs, all he needs to do is pick up the phone. That’s what he does. He’s very busy evaluating players and scouting players and I have my things I do. I think we complement each other very well.”
Jeanie Buss: “He has a vision of what Laker basketball should be. That’s what he does. I can’t tell you the difference between the triangle offense and the Princeton offense. But that’s how my dad envisioned this. My dad being the visionary that he is, that’s how it’s fallen into place. Anytime you have a change in leadership and organization, everything kind of shifts. You have to find where they’re comfortable and operate from that place. Now it’s almost two years since my dad passed away. We’re on target.”
Jim Buss has said if the Lakers are not a contender in the Western Conference within three years, he will step down. Is that something that would happen?
Jeanie Buss: “I don’t know why he said that. That was a private conversation with our family. I don’t understand why he said. But I don’t think it will be a concern. By three years, we will be exactly where we should be in terms of the Western Conference.”
Is that a standard that you’re holding him to, or that just something Jim said?
Jeanie Buss: “That’s a challenge he presented to himself. Again, I don’t know why he made that public.”
But would you hold him accountable to that standard?
Jeanie Buss: “Of course. But do I see that happening? I don’t. Given all the resources that we have, given our legacy, given who our head coach is and who our front office is, I don’t see any problem getting as progress to where we need to be.”
I’m sure you wanted this to happen yesterday. But knowing the process and the particulary variables involved, how long do you think the process will take?
Jeanie Buss: I’m a Lakers fan too. We’ll be contending. We’re be in the Western Conference Finals within three years. As long as you have Kobe Bryant on your team, anything can happen in the playoffs. After we saw what happened last year in the first round of the NBA playoffs, every first-round matchup was competitive. It used to be that first round was boring. Now it’s a toss up. But there were so many great series that went to Game 7’s. There’s not as big a difference as the second seed and the sixth seed. That’s where the revenue sharing and collective bargaining agreement, all of this was to create parity.”
But does that help the Lakers given the success they had before?
Jeanie Buss: “We’re just in a cycle. Now we’re in the right direction. We’re committed to a coach and installing what he wants to see and you’re watching it pay off slowly as the players get used to playing with each other and learning from each other.”
You say with Kobe Bryant, anything can happen. There’s that window of three years, but Kobe only has one year left on his contract.
Jeanie Buss: “All I ask of Kobe Bryant is that he knows in his heart when he’s done playing. There’s too many guys who think they’re ready and then they miss it and try to come back. It’s a difficult time in any players’ career. I just want Kobe in his heart to know when he’s ready.”
What’s Phil [Jackson] going through with the Knicks’ current struggles?
Jeanie Buss: “We don’t talk about the day to day stuff he goes through. Obviously I can see where he is in the standings and I can see where we are in the standings. Neither of us are comfortable where we are. But he’s in it and very fulfilled by his job. He knows what he wants to accomplish and I have faith he will do that. I have faith the Lakers will get back. We have a compelling story to tell. When you have that kind if cap space, it allows you to trade and take in a big contract It’s not just about free agency I like where we sit right now. Our story gets stronger and stronger as Byron Scott continues to exert his influence on the team.”
Is it hard to stay patient with this?
Jeanie Buss: “Of course. I’m a fan. I always talk about how my dad was a fan and thought like a fan. He just is like every fan that wants to win every year. That’s the way my dad was. That’d be nice to see, but Lakers fans know that as long as they progress and steps are going in the right direction, they’ll be patient.”
Without Kobe Bryant, Lakers lose to Trail Blazers
Portland’s Chris Kaman blames himself for joining the Lakers last season
Lakers’ Ronnie Price diagnosed with fractured nose