Dr. Buss Speaks, You Should Listen

Darius Soriano —  August 18, 2010

If you haven’t had the chance, you should go read Dave McMenamin’s article on Jerry Buss’ media session held at a fundraiser event for the Lakers Youth Foundation.  In the piece, you’ll read the the good Dr. spoke on a variety of topics including the Lakers’ payroll, his hall of fame indcution, Shaq to the Celtics, and much more. 

However, the part that interested me the most were Buss’ comments on the Miami Heat.  Here’s a sample:

Suddenly there’s this juggernaut out there that we have a chance to play against and that excites me, that really excites me because, quite honestly, I think we can beat them and I’m looking forward to playing them.  I don’t think it’s automatic that Miami will be our biggest opponent come the end, but on the other hand, I must admit they have the world’s attention and that means we’re going to be on center stage when we get a chance to play them.

He then spoke about the Lakers’ personnel moves of this past summer in relation to the “super team” that the Heat have assembled:

Our intentions were to sign those players prior to Miami coalescing all of the talent that was left over.  I don’t think we reacted to them. Once the season is over, we look backwards on the season and say, ‘Were there any weaknesses? Could we do something to improve this team?’ And we did that quite independently of Miami. … I think we just prepared ourselves for the general war, not specifically for anyone.

All of this interests me not because of the reference to the Heat or because Dr. Buss semi-discounts their chances of being the top contender by lumping them in with other very strong teams like the Magic or the Celtics.  But, it interests me because we got a little insight into the mentality of the Lakers brass when building a team.  You see, the Lakers were intent on not standing pat.  Their goal was to build as strong a team as possible that could manage to defeat any opponent rather than gearing up for one specific team. 

And this is a mentality that has been lost on other contenders over the past couple of seasons.  Look at the 2009-10 Cavs for example.  That team aquired Shaq during the off-season to deal with Dwight Howard and then traded for Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline in order to better match up with Rashard Lewis, both of whom play for the Magic.  This would seem like common sense considering the Magic eliminated the Cavs the previous Spring.  However, these moves proved to be short sighted as the Cavs never faced the Magic in the 2010 playoffs and instead were dispacthed by the Celtics in six games.  You see the Celtics had the perfect counter to the moves that the Cavs made to “improve” as they attacked Shaq in P&R and off ball screen actions that took advantage of his limited mobility on defense while smothering Jamison with a long and (still) athletic defender in KG.  This forced the Cavs to turn to a Lebron-centric offense that the Celtics are built to shut down over the course of a playoff series.  Really, the results were inevitbable as the Cavs roster was not built to beat all comers, but was instead built to beat ones that depended on big man play (the Magic or Lakers) that they never ended up facing.  (I understand that this is a simplistic view and that there is much more nuance to the Cavs/Celtics match up that was not explored.  However, this was essentially the key to the series as the Cavs didn’t have the variety of offensive threats on the wing and their big man that could actually score – Shaq – was a liability on defense while their best defensive big man – Varejao – could not score against the C’s dominant defense.  This left Lebron on an island and even though he performed well on most nights, it was not enough.)

Meanwhile, look at teams like Boston and the Lakers.  These are teams that continue to self scout, identify general weaknesses that matter against every oponent, and them attempt to address them through their personnel decisions.  This past off-season, Boston knew that it was short on big man depth and acquired the O’neal’s (Shaq and Jermaine).  They also knew that they were short on perimeter defenders and back court scoring and then sought to retain Marquise Daniels (who is better than the showed in an injury riddled season last year) and Nate Robinson.  When you combine those moves with the retention of Ray Allen, Pierce, KG, and an improving Rondo and you have a versatile roster that can match up with any team in the league by scoring enough and clamping down on defense.  As for the Lakers, you see the same approach of identifying weaknesses and then moving to improve those areas.  Need a steadier point guard that can play with either the starters or the resevers?  Enter Steve Blake.  Need a back up SF that can defend, rebound, shoot the three ball, and slash off the ball?  Go get Matt Barnes.  Even by retaining Shannon Brown and drafting Ebanks/Caracter, the Lakers addressed their youth and athleticism concerns.   This is how you build a team.

So, while Dr. Buss was speaking on any and all topics I was listening to the parts where he was talking about how this organization was intent on staying on top.  A good friend of mine has always said that even championship teams need a certain amount of turnover to stay competitive.  We saw this last year with the addition of Ron Artest and see it again this season with Barnes, Blake, and Ratliff.  No one can be sure if this will be enough for the Lakers to remain the class of the league, but I’m grateful to Dr. Buss for opening his wallet and to Mitch for working his magic with the agents and players to bring in guys that have made a strong team even stronger by suring up weaknesses with quality contributors.

Darius Soriano

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19 responses to Dr. Buss Speaks, You Should Listen

  1. Nothing new to that approach, which explains why this team has almost always been in the hunt while under the Buss family’s control.

    Dealing Norm Nixon, a fan favorite, to land Byron Scott. Scoring Mychal Thompson near the trade deadline in ’87.

    Orlando Woolridge was added to a team that had won back-to-back titles in part because Magic felt the bench needed some scoring help.

    Terry Teagle and Sam Perkins came in the summer of 1990, after the Lakers had posted the league’s best record (63-19) but fell short in the playoffs.

    And Sedale Threatt was originally signed to back-up Magic after the Lakers lost to the Bulls in the ’91 Finals.

    Management almost always does what it can to restock the shelves in the summer, even when others might look at the same shelves and think, “There’s enough there.” That willingness to improve even a title winner is what sets the Buss family apart from nearly all other owners in sports.

  2. I found it funny in the video on ESPN of Buss’s interview that he names all the other tough teams out there besides Miami….and didn’t mention Boston.

  3. The Lakers moves this off season have been very impressive.

    They’ve done nothing less than put themselves in an excellent position to defend their title.

    Hmmm, wonder if it’ll come down to LA/Boston in June 2011?

  4. In his unique way, Jerry Buss made a strong statement to the league that the Lakers are still the team to beat without sounding arrogant at all. Jerry exudes confidence and I love it.

    To paraphrase what he said:

    We’re the champs and we don’t have to find a way to match up to you. You have to find a way to match up to us. And guess what? We’re stronger than we were a year ago, so have fun because we will!

  5. Two things that interested me.

    1. Jerry’s interview was in stark contrast to the Sterling article by Arnovitz, where Sterling basically trashed everyone in his organization, while Jerry had kind words for even Shaq. Great study in compare & contrast.

    2. Winners always look ahead.

  6. I like it. We’re all (justifiably) pleased with the moves Mitch has made this offseason, but more power to Dr. Buss for his willingness to take on even more costs to improve the team. He has reason to be pleased and optimistic for next season. Adding in his HoF induction, it’s probably been quite the satisfying summer for him, the Superfriends teaming up in Miami notwithstanding.

    Speaking of Arnovitz, is anyone else enjoying the fact that he seems to have taken temporary control of Truehoop?

  7. ‘Need a steadier point guard that can play with either the starters or the resevers? Enter Steve Blake. Need a back up SF that can defend, rebound, shoot the three ball, and slash off the ball? Go get Matt Barnes. ‘

    The Steve Blake part is right but not so much the part about Matt Barnes. Didn’t the Matt Barnes deal just drop into Kupchak’s lap when Toronto realized it couldn’t pay Matt Barnes? I’m not sure if Kupchak was really looking for a backup SF from the get-go, like a backup PG (Steve Blake) or a backup big (Theo Ratliff).

  8. I also like how Buss artfully danced around the rumors about Magic looking at buying the Pistons. I hope it doesn’t come to fruition, if only because I just can’t picture Magic with any other team but our Lakers.

    That said, Dr. Buss is bar-none the best owner in all of pro sports in North America. He is committed to winning, yet takes a back seat to his GM & coaches. A true class act and another reason why it’s great to be a Laker fan.

  9. #7. While I understand your point and agree that Matt Barnes wasn’t necessarily on the Lakers’ radar until after the botched Toronto deal, the Lakers were looking for a defensive wing early in free agency. Remember, Raja Bell had been linked to the Lakers since very early in the free agency process and he would have surely filled the role that the Lakers will ask Barnes to play next season. My overall point is that the Lakers identify their own weaknesses very well and try to build the strongest team to face any and all comers rather than building to beat a specific opponent.

  10. Dr. Buss would never refer to his offseason acquisitions as “Barnes and what’s his name” that’s for sure.

    I think when people talk about how the Cavs put “nothing” around Lebron this is the precise point they miss. They built flawed, reactionary teams, sure, but it is simply disingenous or dishonest to say they were devoid of talent or that management didn’t try to win. “Lebron didn’t have any real stars to help him” we are told. Exactly who were the future hall of famers around Dwight Howard when the Magic beat the 66-win Cavs in 2009? I am not a Lebron hater but I don’t understand these sportswriters who make more excuses for him than his mother does. What’s their agenda?

  11. Not sure if this was something that Buss said, or was added by one of the bloggers, but I remember him saying something along the lines of ‘not cheating the customers’ by declining talent based on dollars alone.

    He added cost to what was already a very expensive team, when everyone could’ve agreed that it was too expensive as it is, by signing Brown.

    Also, I like the fact that he is still very involved, very aware, and very interested, and that his children still have to “kiss his ring” before going through with something ;)

  12. When Dr. Buss said “‘You can’t help but love Shaq. He’s a very funny man. Sometimes he gets a little carried away in his analysis of former employers. Outside of that, he’s quite a guy and we look forward to it.” I said to myself, well that is one guy who really acts with CLASS!

  13. What really struck me is the competitive nature he shows in wanting great opponents that “have the world’s attention”. This strikes as a bit like Kobe relishing the opportunity to battle against guys that really take it to him.

    Most people would want to have a dynasty that crushes the competition, that doesn’t have to worry too much about the possibility of losing. For Buss, though, it seems that he really wants to have more meaningful wins against great competition.

    We have been blessed with an organization that has consistently taken the long view, has been smart, and has been made up of a bunch of real competitors. Remember when Riley said that the greatest compliment he could ever pay Magic was that he wanted to win just as much as Riley did. We all know about West and Kobe. And Jeannie once said that Phil was the most competitive person she’d ever known. But it all starts with Dr. Buss. it really says something about the man that he would rather risk losing against a great opponent that win against an inferior one. That takes real cajones, and that man’s got ‘em.

  14. @#6 (Charles): I second that. I really enjoy reading Arnovitz’s columns because he often talks real X’s & O’s just like many of the writers here on FB&G. His articles tend to be balanced and good reads..

    I’m hoping the change is permanent. I stopped reading Truehoop completely for a while when it turned into “Lebron-apologist Central”. I try to predict if the article is written by Arnovitz or that other guy, so that I don’t bump up the wrong guy’s readership.

  15. Dunk Specialist August 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I am curious about the Arnovitz column. Could someone post a link. Or is it still on Truehoops? Thanks

  16. I love this quote from Buss “You hate to say it that way, but that’s what it comes down to. You get to a spot where you have to win it all to be happy,” he said. “Some time ago, I’m talking to some people and they wanted a bonus if the Lakers make the playoffs. I said, ‘If they don’t make the playoffs, you don’t work here anymore.'”

    The more Buss personality and mentality is exposed the more I and everyone should understand when the choice came down to Shaq or Kobe, he chose Kobe. Kobe is not only an extension of Phil, Kobe is an extension of Buss as well. I just can’t wait until October.

    It’s funny that Laker haters have a hard time figuring out why we fans love the lakers so much. We have an owner, a coach, and two on court leaders in Fish and Kobe (and two Superstars with Kobe and Pau) that are dedicated to winning and give everything they possibly can from training camp to game 7 of the finals. Not only are they all dedicated to winning, they win.

  17. Great time to appreciate Dr. Buss. All hell may break loose when cedes control of his team to his kids, but as of now, he’s still the captain of the Lake Show.

    The rumors of his penny-pinching for this summer’s free agency period were obviously wrong. Maybe it’s his age and a greater perspective about really enjoying this team and therefore putting way more money out there than other teams. Thankfully, he’s the owner of my favorite team.

  18. nice post and great comments. i thought buss’ comments about shaq were extremely revealing, especially when it comes to retiring shaq’s jersey. The fact that buss didn’t mention any of shaq’s grandstanding, occasionally poor work ethic, and the fact the became a celtic (!) was surprising. Buss still seems little smitten with shaq. This doesn’t diminish the incredible contributions shaq made to the lakers. He should always be loved for that. But when the time comes, I certainly hope that there are clear and significant distinctions made between honoring shaq and honoring kobe. In no way is kobe a saint, but he certainly is right next to Magic, MJ and others in terms of being the ultimate competitor. I can see clowns at the circus and comedians at the club.