The ticking clock has sounded louder and louder.
The Lakers’ continual struggles has brought more reminders of the self-imposed timeline Lakers executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss outlined regarding his expectations on how long it would take for the team to become Western Conference contenders.
In 2014, Jim Buss told his five siblings, including Lakers president Jeanie Buss, he would step down in three years if the team did not reach that benchmark. That expiration date apparently is set for after the 2016-17 season.
“He’s the one who made it public,” Jeanie Buss said an appearance on Colin Cowherd’s radio show on Tuesday. “I have no reason to think he cannot be successful in terms of putting together a winning team.”
There are plenty of reasons to wonder, though, if it is realistic to achieve that goal in one year.
For all the glory surrounding the Lakers’ 16 NBA championships. they have only set recent trends in losing and instability.
They have set franchise records for worst losses in a season for two consecutive years. They have struck out both in playoff appearances and landing an elite free agent for three consecutive years. They have gone through a coaching search for the fourth time in five years.
“What I made clear to our front office is we’re going to be judged by wins and losses,” Jeanie Buss said. “It isn’t about having a marquee star player and coming in last place. That’s not what Lakers basketball is. Lakers basketball is winning basketball.”
The Lakers believe they can win soon for a number of reasons.
They will have up to $60 million in cap space because of Kobe Bryant’s retirement, Roy Hibbert’s free agency and Brandon Bass’s plan to opt out of his player option. They have a young core nucleus featuring a visionary point guard (D’Angelo Russell), an aggressive scorer (Jordan Clarkson) and versatile forwards (Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr.). The Lakers also have 55.8 percent odds in landing another young player by virtue of retaining their top-three protected pick.
“I have no reason to think they can’t show a major improvement from this past season,” Jeanie Buss said. “This past season was the worst season in Lakers franchise history. There’s nowhere to go but up. Now they have all the tools that a front office needs to make trades and sign free agents and keep our draft pick in the lottery.”
And if not?
Jeanie Buss reiterated “my brother has already said if he can’t deliver, he would understand and step aside.” She then stressed it “really would be Jimmy’s call” on if the Lakers would then retain general manager Mitch Kupchak.
“I am trying to set them up so they have everything that they need at their disposal, whether it is through cap space or sign free agents or use cap space to trade for players,” Jeanie Buss said. “We have to give them this opportunity to envision whatever Lakers basketball is going forward. I will never dictate X’s and O’s and what kind of offense they should run.”
Yet, Jeanie Buss strongly shared her analysis on other season-long storylines.
Did Kobe Bryant’s large workload and farewell tour stunt the growth of his younger teammates?
“Do I think Kobe cost them playing time? I don’t think so,” Jeanie Buss said. “Kobe only plays one position. There’s plenty of playing time to go around for all the starters and for the rotation players.”
Did Jeanie Buss support the theory the Lakers put higher emphasis on Bryant’s farewell tour both to rake in money and use the shiny display to distract from the ugly on-court product?
“This team and organization is about winning basketball games. There was no plan of making it about a Kobe retirement tour,” Jeanie Buss said. “In terms of running an operation to just make money as a business, you’re in the wrong business. This organization is about winning basketball games.”
The Lakers rarely did that this season. That partly explained why the Lakers fired Byron Scott. They sympathized with Scott on managing Bryant’s workload, his farewell tour, his young players and an unproven roster. But the Lakers became more concerned about how Scott could relate to young players and attract free agents.
Yet, Jeanie Buss said she had no idea about the Lakers’ plans until seeing a flood of text messages and voicemails when she turned on her phone on Sunday night.
“I didn’t really anticipate that a change like that was coming,” she said.
Jeanie Buss has kept a wide distance from her brother.
Part of it seems by design. Since the passing of the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss in 2013, Jeanie Buss has been in charge to run the business side while also representing the team during Board of Governor meetings. Meanwhile, Jim Buss oversees the team’s basketball operations
Part of it seems by personality conflicts. Tension flared when the Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni in 2012 over Phil Jackson, who won five of his 11 NBA titles with the Lakers and is Jeanie’s longtime companion. Yet, Jeanie Buss has since maintained she and her brother have gotten past that incident.
“I asked my sibling if it would be possible if Phil could play a role with the Lakers. It would make me better at my job. It would be somebody I would enjoy having an opportunity to work with the man I’m engaged to,” Jeanie Buss said. “My brother made it clear he and Mitch didn’t need to have another voice in the front office. It wasn’t really necessarily about Phil. They didn’t need any other voice in the front office. Jim and Mitch see basketball the same way. They have a vision of what they want to put together. They really don’t need anymore input to make things cloudy.”
Nonetheless, a large sentiment around the league believes Jackson will return to the Lakers next summer. That would coincide both with his contract allowing him to leave as the New York Knicks’ president and for when Jim Buss’ self-imposed timeline expires.
Jeanie Buss downplayed that issue. She brought up her inability to comment on Jackson publicly out of tampering concerns. The Lakers’ president also argued the purple and gold sky will look drastically less hazy by next year.
“People need to give them an opportunity,” Jeanie Buss said of the Lakers’ front office. “They have everything they’ve wanted in terms of flexibility going into this offseason. Let’s watch what they put together and let’s give them that opportunity. They deserve that time to put together what they see as Lakers basketball.”