Around The World (Wide Web): Questions of Leadership & New Directions

Darius Soriano —  August 19, 2013

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Sad note for talk-show hosts: Mike D’Antoni isn’t turning up his car radio to hear you and your faithful listeners destroy him. “Hell, no,” D’Antoni said on a sunny Manhattan Beach afternoon, plenty of time before rush-hour shows typically unleash another round of venom aimed at the Lakers’ coach. These are trying times to be a Lakers fan in Los Angeles, the playoffs hardly a guarantee next season as the Clippers continue their assumed ascension past the 16-time NBA champions. Naturally, many of the verbal arrows get fired at the affable D’Antoni in comments at the end of online stories, letters to the editor and the above-mentioned airwaves. No, the specter of Phil Jackson never quite left the Lakers. “I think anybody that comes in here the next 10, 15 years, it’s going to be that way,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that he was so good and so large and he’s still sitting out there. “Had that bothered me, I shouldn’t have taken the job because you know it’s going to be there. I wasn’t stupid enough to think that, ‘Oh, they won’t remember him.’ Sure they will. It doesn’t really affect what we do day-to-day and how we approach the game.”

From Ric Bucher, The Hollywood Reporter: A pair of reading glasses sits atop the dresser in Jeanie Buss’ bedroom. There’s nothing remarkable about the frameless specs except for one detail: They sat on the nose of her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, whose smiling face forever will be identified with the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA franchise he owned for 34 years until his death in February at age 80. Under Dr. Buss, the Lakers’ purple-and-gold colors became so synonymous with both winning and entertainment that it’s hard to decide who resides in whose shadow, the team or the star-glutted city it calls home. “I wanted to keep something that was as close to him as possible,” says Jeanie of her dad’s glasses, discussing him publicly for the first time since his death from kidney failure after a battle with prostate cancer. “And they help me remember how he saw the world.” The challenge facing Jeanie, 51, and her 53-year-old brother Jim — along with four other Buss siblings who share a 66 percent controlling interest in the Lakers — is not merely to see the world as their father did but to act on that vision with equal success. The Busses have inherited a team at a crossroads. The Lakers are the NBA’s most successful franchise of the past 30-plus years — winner of 10 championships since 1980, valued by Forbes at $1 billion, with a local TV deal worth $3.6 billion over 20 years — but it is an organization whose allure has been defined by a peculiar mix of success on the court and Hollywood flash among its fan base. Dr. Buss understood both sides of that coin. Now, after a lackluster season in which the Lakers exited the playoffs in the first round, longtime star Kobe Bryant, 34, ruptured his Achilles tendon and center Dwight Howard opted to depart after one season, it remains to be seen whether this Buss generation can keep Tobey Maguire, Ari Emanuel and Jack Nicholson dropping $100,000 apiece for courtside season tickets. “The shoes they’re stepping into are so huge and epic,” says Bryant. “It’s on the next generation in line to figure out what their leadership style is going to be and to do it their own way.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Still, the question for Lakers fans isn’t whether or not Jim Buss is a playboy, as he seems to think based on his response, but whether he’s competent as a player personnel guy. Can he identify talent? Can he pick the right coach? Talking about the Bucher feature with Andy earlier today, he made a great point about Jeanie: It’s so much easier for fans to like her, because what she does and how well she does it has a far less tangible impact on wins and losses. It matters a great deal if she’s good, but drawing a straight line to her success and championships isn’t nearly as easy as it is on Jim’s half of the operation. Fair or not, every game has become a mini-referendum on his skill set. People assume, I think correctly, that were Jeanie in charge of the basketball operation, she’d hire people to run it and stay out of the way. Jim, meanwhile, is seen by many as interfering with Mitch Kupchak, micro-managing and meddling in important decisions of the basketball people. But he’s not. Jim is one of the basketball people. He’s doing his job, as any personnel types would around the league. The question is whether he’s good at it, and how well he’ll perform in a world where he, not Dr. Buss, is the final authority. This gets to my major problem with Jim, and it has less to do with his thought process in any particular  trades, signings or coaching hires: Fundamentally, it’s a mistake for the same person to be responsible both for signing checks and determining who gets them. Even if that guy is bright and capable, that model has been a bad one in professional sports. Over the last few seasons, Jim has consistently combated assertions he was Godzilla let loose on Tokyo by noting how all big decisions still ran through his father. Now, though, there’s no question he’s the one with the final authority on basketball matters. The owner and player personnel hats are very different. Wearing both at the same time is a bad idea.

From Brett Polakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: Until and unless Jackson is able to get to the point where he’d be completely healthy enough to patrol the sidelines once more, whether or not he wants to coach again is a moot point. Lakers fans can chant “we want Phil” all they want during times when their team struggles next season, but it simply isn’t going to happen. Now, could it happen the following season, with current assistant coach Kurt Rambis easing the transition or perhaps even sharing the head coaching duties with Jackson so he wouldn’t have to travel as much? Of course. And LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony could be on the squad by then, too. It just isn’t the most likely of scenarios. Jeanie Buss, who has an ownership stake in the Lakers and is also Jackson’s fiancee, believes Jackson isn’t done coaching for good. One never knows what the future may hold, but at this point, it appears to be a long shot at best.

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN LA: Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t doubt Kobe Bryant’s will or toughness. When the 17-year veteran says he’s way ahead of schedule in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, Kupchak believes him. But when assessing the state of the Lakers at this critical juncture — after the departure of free agent center Dwight Howard — the “uncertainty” of Bryant’s health remains Kupchak’s most pressing concern. “The primary weakness is uncertainty. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody,” Kupchak said Thursday in a wide-ranging interview with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd.” “Our best player, one of the best players ever to play the game, is recovering from an Achilles tendon tear and one of the other all-time best, Steve Nash, ended the season injured. “Steve, to my understanding, is close to 100 percent, but he’s not as young as he once was and Kobe’s a big question mark. We’re very optimistic, he’s getting treatment every day, he’s in the facility right now, but he hasn’t been on a basketball court. Uncertainty going forward, I guess with our health status would be the biggest question mark.”

From Mark Medina, LA Daily News: The Lakers usually enter a season with championship aspirations. But not this year. The Lakers lost in a four-game sweep to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. The Lakers lost Dwight Howard (free agency to Houston), Metta World Peace (amnesty provision) and Earl Clark (free agency to Cleveland). The health status remains uncertain regarding Kobe Bryant (torn left Achilles tendon), Steve Nash (right hamstring) and Pau Gasol (knees). Despite the Lakers’ financial limitations, they acquired decent talent in center Chris Kaman, forward Nick Young and guards Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar. But with the Western Conference featuring plenty of young and emerging talent in Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the Lakers face a daunting task in competing with a veteran-laden roster. That leaves the Lakers, for once, using diminished expectations as motivation. “A lot of people don’t believe in us. That’s always good,” Young said. “That’ll add more fuel to the fire. It’ll demand Kobe come back stronger. It should motivate all of us.”

Darius Soriano

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