Kremlinology and the Lakers

Kurt —  May 29, 2007

Back decades ago, when the Soviet Union and the United States were embroiled in the cloak-and-dagger Cold War, there was something called Kremlinology. The simple definition is this — nobody really knew what was happening inside the very secretive Soviet government, so there were experts who tried to divine what was happening by reading subtle public cues. For example, who was standing near Brezhnev at the big May Day military parade meant a lot.

Trying to figure out what is happening in the Lakers front office usually involves some Kremlinology — Jerry Buss, good poker player that he is, tends not to tip his hand or thought process. The Lakers front office is really a pretty small group of people, and figuring out how decisions are really made is a bit of a mystery. How much power does Mitch Kupchak really have to make big moves? How much is Jim Buss involved day to day? There aren’t any May Day parades to see who is sitting next to Jerry Buss any given year.

More and more, this amateur Kremlinologist thinks Kobe’s recent campaign to bring pressure on management is part of an effort to get the various factions moving, ideally in the same direction. Recently there have been signs of a fissure.

There was Jim Buss on 570 AM saying he’s not sure Phil Jackson is good at bringing young players along (this after years where Jerry Buss had said he thought the triangle “boring.”) and says he doesn’t like Phil chastising his players publicly. Then his sister Jeannie Buss, who runs the business side of the operation and lives with the coach, goes on another show on that same radio station and says its ironic that Jim would publicly question the tactic of the coach to publicly question his players.

But I think the key thing Jeannie said is she had not spoken to Jim about this (and it was several days after the first comment). No communication there, and apparently not with Phil. Then company man Kurt Rambis comes on the same radio station and defends Phil, saying that Buss never comes to practice so how would he know how the staff works with young players. Then on top of it all Kobe brings up the specter of West (and now West is saying he wouldn’t come back and step on Kupchak like that).

It all reads like power is shifting some — Jerry Buss is giving up some of his and everyone is fighting for parts of it. Jim Buss is the heir apparent but as he asserts himself publicly (in a way his father rarely did using radio interviews) he steps on toes and finds people willing to fight back. Jim Buss said he would be willing to trade Andrew Bynum, but if (as has been reported) Buss was the guy who pushed for Bynum, he sees the kid or any fruits of the trade as his first stamp on the Lakers legacy. And so he is cautious in looking for the right move.

But cautious GMs tend to lead stagnant franchises. So do front offices where everyone is not pulling in the same direction. I guess we’ll just have to keep watching the clues to see where the needed leadership will come from.

Kurt

Posts