Archives For Buss Family

Records: Lakers 20-13 (5th in West), Thunder 26-7 (1st in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.3 (15th in NBA), Thunder 108.9 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.7 (11th in NBA), Thunder 102.4 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Daequan Cook
Injuries: Lakers: none; Thunder: Nick Collison (questionable), Thabo Sefolosha (out), Eric Maynor (out for the season)

The Lakers Coming In: As Darius pointed out yesterday, on the floor the Lakers have fared pretty well of late, and will be looking to kick off All Star Weekend with what would be their biggest victory of the season.

Not coincidentally, the bigs are in great form, with Andrew Bynum averaging 16.1 (on 56.3%), 13.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocked shots and just two personal fouls per game in February, while Pau Gasol has averaged 17.9 and 13.1, while connecting on 47% of his field goal attempts. Kobe continues to be Kobe, delivering roughly 26- 5- 4 this month, though he’s struggled with his shot, as evidenced by field goal and free throw percentages of just 40.6% and 79% (compared with his season averages of 43.9% and 82.5%, respectively). And the bench – deservedly much-maligned all season – has been not-atrocious (small victories, people), led by Matt Barnes (8.5 points, 5.8 rebounds in his last 8 games) and Steve Blake, who’s recorded 3+ assists in 6 of his last 7, the lone exception being his 5-triple, 17-point outburst against Portland Monday night.

However, as Darius also pointed out yesterday, the Lakers’ recent run of solid form is not the main story swirling around this team. If it’s not one with this team, it’s sure to be another. Between The Veto, the charitable contribution of Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks Repeat Fund, incessant Dwight chatter, Kobe’s divorce and Metta’s media squabbling with Mike Brown, there’s arguably been more to monitor off the floor with these guys than there has on it. And now we have the latest episode of The Adventures of Team Turmoil.

An ugly, remnant of December’s near-acquisition of Chris Paul (y’know, other than the lack of a point guard worthy of NBA starter status), the Lakers’ desire (or lack thereof) to part ways with Pau Gasol – and everyone’s thoughts on the matter –are the hot topic du jour. However, as speculation about the Lakers’ need (and preparedness) to make a major move have ramped up, a more troubling issue seems to be simmering just beneath the surface – the Lakers’ front office, once the NBA’s paragon of stability and leadership, has begun to more closely resemble Gob Bluth’s gaming ship, anchored to past greatness only by an increasingly embattled Mitch Kupchak.

We know for a fact that the Lakers are willing to surrender Pau Gasol in exchange for a young franchise cornerstone. We also know that Pau, one of the league’s top 15 players and arguably its most skilled big man, always the consummate professional, is at least slightly (I’d wager more) upset by this. Finally, Pau Gasol remains a Laker, and a damn good one at that. That’s about it.

Meanwhile, however, this episode has greased the tracks for Kobe, who – in both a show of support for Pau and a desire to maximize his chances at Ring #6 – has hinted at his growing frustration with the organization’s new regime. Since, we’ve gotten a “you do your job and let me do mine” rebuttal from Kupchak and a players-only meeting (usually good for a short-term boost), but nothing to suggest that calmer waters are imminent.

With all of that said, the Lakers have now won 6 of their last 8 outings (including 4 of the last 5), including wins over the Blazers and Mavericks in their last two, and at 20-13, sit a single game behind the greatest Clipper team ever for the West’s #3 seed. It’s conceivable (if not likely) that given the torrent of frustration and distraction that continually washes over this team, moments spent on the court are among their least stressful these days. With the All-Star break (and a few days to refuel) imminent, look for the Lakers, win or lose, to put forth maximum effort against the class of Western Conference.

The Thunder Coming In: I feel like there is an inordinate amount of chatter these days centered on the Thunder’s flaws and the “wide openness” of the West come playoff time.

It’s true. This is by no means a perfect team – they are turnover-prone (a league-high 15.9% of the time), mediocre on the boards (15th in Offensive Rebound Rate and 24th in Defensive Rebound Rate), lack a traditional low post scorer and have seen their second unit hamstrung by injury, but make no mistake, these guys are good. Really, really good.

For starters, only the Miami Heat are more efficient offensively (by one point/100 possessions) and boasts a higher True Shooting Percentage (57%, v. 56.9%) than the Thunder.

Next, and I feel like we are beginning to take this a bit for granted, OKC’s 1-2 punch is nothing short of devastating. In Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (or, in the interest of staying neutral, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant), OKC features a top-two duo that is an absolute nightmare for perimeter defenders, getting to the rim at will (11.8 attempts per game), finishing once they get there (66.1%) and delivering from distance (47.4% on long 2s; Durant is 36.7% from 3).

Once you’ve got your brain wrapped around that pair of potential 40-pointers, it’s time to deal with the NBA’s best bench player, (I cannot remember where I saw this comp – apologies to whomever I am stealing this from) this era’s Manu Ginobili, James Harden. In addition an extremely impressive stat line (16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, 47/37/86 from FG/3-pt/FT and 21.1 PER), Harden is the ultimate glue guy, as Royce Young describes:

It’s really hard to explain to people how important Harden is to the team. He’s not just a great sixth man. He’s like the mediator between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. What he provides is just so necessary to the flow of the team. It’s like he’s a pressure-release valve so that Durant and Westbrook don’t have to do everything. He scores, passes and operates a terrific two-man game with Nick Collison. He plays well with Durant and Westbrook and plays really well running the Thunder’s second unit by himself. It’s hard to say he’s more valuable than Durant or Westbrook, but it’s closer than you think.

And finally, while OKC does not rank among the NBA’s elite at the defensive end, the shortcomings of a susceptible perimeter defense (27.4 FGA at the rim – 2nd worst in the NBA) are masked effectively by Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and (when healthy) Nick Collison, a last line of defense that effectively defends the rim (7th lowest FG% allowed at the rim; #1 Block Rate) and does not give away points at the free throw line (a league-average .215 FT Rate allowed).

Flawed? Yes. But warts and all, this is the best team in the West.

Thunder Blogs: Daily Thunder consistently cranks out some really excellent work (check out some of Royce Young’s thoughts on tonight’s matchup here), as does Welcome To Loud City on SB Nation.

Keys to the game: It’s impossible (well, maybe not impossible, but pretty tough) to predict what the Lakers’ roster will look like following the trade deadline. What we do know, however, is that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are here now, while Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Gilbert Arenas are not. All BS aside, let’s see where this Laker team is at. For all of the gaping holes on the roster and turmoil surrounding this team, the Lakers have managed to win more than 60% of their games thus far and remain well-positioned to finish in the top half of the West playoff picture.

OKC represents a brutal matchup for, well, anyone. While it would be silly to expect Thursday night to deviate much from that script, there are a couple of factors that could play out in the Lakers favor.

First and foremost, the Lakers must rely on their interior defense and rebounding, particularly at the offensive end, to control the tempo of the game (at 93.8 possessions per game, OKC plays at the third-highest pace in the league; at 89.9, the Lakers are 21st) and keep the West’s most potent offensive attack under control. This entails keeping Gasol and Bynum, both of whom are rebounding at an elite level and are playing excellent defensive ball this season, out of harm’s way, with harm in this represented by OKC’s pair of whistle-drawing projectiles.

To this end, the perimeter D will be called upon to challenge OKC’s perimeter scorers. In addition to providing the clamored-for offensive spark that too-often has been missing, this is an area in which the Laker bench, namely Matt Barnes (and, though not a bench player, MWP), must provide value. If MWP still possesses any of the elite defensive skill he exhibited in the 2010 playoffs against Durant, this would be an opportune time to conjure it up. Another defensive matchup that could loom large is Barnes on Westbrook, as RW’s speed, power and perpetual motion are too much for Kobe to deal with while also trying to offset OKC’s firepower at the offensive end, and Derek Fisher and Steve Blake… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

Sorry. Moving on…

Provided the Lakers are able to keep Bynum and Gasol on the floor for big minutes, the massive duo in the middle will be vital to the team’s success on the offensive end as well. Bynum has a decided size advantage over any front line defense the Thunder can put forth, and the Lakers will do well to feed the beast in an attempt to control tempo, collect some easy buckets and use the aggressiveness of OKC’s bigs (particularly Ibaka) against them to lure them into foul trouble. This become double important with Nick Collison banged up – he will be limited by a biceps injury if he plays at all, as with AS break looming, and no worse than 26-8 in the bank, this may be a good opportunity to get him an extended period of rest.

In spite of all that’s gone (and continues to go) wrong, the Lakers still rank among the NBA’s better teams. These trying times, rather than tearing the team apart, appear to be having something of a galvanizing effect on this crew. Even so, it is admittedly a tall order ask any team to roll into OKC and down the Thunder. However, I would not put it past this frustrating, but talent, but oh so exasperatingly frustrating team to notch a signature road wins against a legitimately elite opponent when no one expects them to do so.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TNT and KCAL.

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It has been reported that Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss has been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.  Over the years, Dr. Buss has been the steward of this organization and been a major influence on all its success.  He’s done things his way and repeatedly come out on top.  The man is truly one of a kind

He is Jerry Hatten Buss, 46, an amiable and intelligent Los Angeles multimillionaire who extravagantly admires, among other things, M & M candy, French existentialists, any and all USC football teams, any and all Playboy centerfold girls, rare coins, rare stamps, rare cars and rare bargains in real estate.

His persona is an amalgam of Horatio Alger and Hugh Hefner; of sugar daddy, devoted father, accountant, real estate wheeler-dealer and aerospace scientist. Buss comes on in a manner that mixes cowboy swagger with movie star glamour, college professor smarts with pool hustler chic.

(Buss) went to Laramie, where he worked the midnight to 8 a.m. shift as a chemist at the Bureau of Mines and attended the University of Wyoming during the day. He graduated with a degree in chemistry in 2(?) years when he was only 19. So impressive were his grades that he was offered scholarships at Harvard, Michigan, Cal Tech and USC, among other schools. Buss picked USC “because of football and the weather,” and got his master’s and his Ph.D….

Always the sports fan, Buss had his eyes on the Lakers and would later acquire them from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 who he had met after renting out the Forum some three years earlier.  Showing his business savvy, Buss would immediately make two moves that would set the Lakers franchise on a path for long term success (from the same SI piece)

Within days after his purchase of the club was announced, Buss may have solved a potentially nasty situation by arranging to keep former Laker Coach Bill Sharman as general manager and at the same time offering Jerry West a front-office job of equal rank that will enable him to gracefully give up his coaching duties, which he has grown to abhor. Buss was kept constantly informed by Cooke of the negotiations that resulted in the signing of Earvin (Magic) Johnson.

 But over the years it’s been obvious that it’s not just his business savvy, but his risk taking and instincts that have gotten him to where he is today.  When the opportunity to take a chance and gamble on the ultimate prize presents itself, it’s Buss that rises to the challenge.

Jerry Buss , owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, has forced all other teams out of the bidding for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar , according to Tom Collins , the representative of the free- agent center.

Collins said of Buss, ”He has done a very good job in this poker game of making the other teams drop out. He and Kareem are now the only two players.” Buss said he would offer ”a flat $1.4 million” a season to Abdul-Jabbar, who is reportedly asking about $400,000 more.

And it wasn’t just with the acquistion of Kareem, but also how the Lakers came to draft Magic Johnson that Buss played a winning hand (from My Life, Earvin “Magic” Johnson):

Before Buss bought the team, Cooke told him the Lakers’ management had recommended drafting Sidney Moncrief… “No way”, said Buss. “Magic Johnson’s the guy or the deal’s off.”

Magic and Kareem.  Showtime.  The glory days.  Five championships and 8 Finals appearances with those two on the roster.  Based off all that success, it’s no wonder that Buss has been so loyal to Magic over the years.  Few remember that Buss actually extended Magic’s contract after he had retired from the NBA in 1992.

Magic Johnson continued an eventful week yesterday by signing a $14.6 million one-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. Rosen added that Johnson would receive the money even if he were no longer playing. “The contract is fully guaranteed,” Rosen said. “There is no stipulation that Earvin has to still be playing, and there is no stipulation that Earvin must be employed by the Lakers.

“Dr. Buss is a man of his word,” he said, referring to Lakers owner Jerry Buss. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. This is something Dr. Buss wanted to do long before Earvin announced his retirement. We looked at all the years when Earvin was not the league’s highest-paid player, and this is the number we negotiated. On the day he retired, Dr. Buss still said that he would do this. He’s an owner who has gone above and beyond.”

But the success didn’t stop in the 80’s or with the retirement of Magic.  The Lakers have gone on win four more championships and make 6 more trips to the Finals under the stewardship of Buss.  When it’s all added up that’s 9 NBA Championships and 15 Finals appearances for the Lakers since Jerry Buss acquired the team in 1979.  And with the extension of Kobe, Gasol and Bynum, the re-signing of Odom, and the acquistion of Artest the Lakers look to be in contention for more deep playoff runs and championships. 

I doubt that Dr. Buss was thinking Hall of Fame or bust when he purchased the Lakers back over 30 years ago.  But, it looks like he’s gotten there anyway.  Congratulations are in order for one of the most successful owners in all of professional sports and a man that is truly one of a kind.  Jerry Buss, Hall of Famer.

(A special thanks goes out to Gatinho for compiling all the articles and quotes used for this piece.  As our resident Lakers historian, this post wouldn’t have been possible without his help.)

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While Lakers fans are arguing over the franchise’s top 50 players, two really good things have appeared on the vast Internet worth discussing more.

First is the rather silly “is Phil Jackson going to come back next year?” hand wringing. How the Los Angeles media deals with Phil Jackson versus the national media is different. Phil loves mind games, and is happy to play them with the press. Local writers know that, they tend to look past the literal interpretation of what Phil Jackson says, knowing some of it is done with a wink and a nod. National writers often miss that.

Enter a good, smart national writer, Chris Sheridan of ESPN, who before the game in New Jersey starts asking about next year. And Phil starts playing games a little — he said that if the Lakers win a title would have an impact (something aimed at the locker room as a little goose) and that he was unsure of Jerry Buss would pay him that much again. The second part of that is funny. Jackson was brought back in after the “Rudy T. year that will not be mentioned” to calm season ticket holders and a fan base still pissed about the Shaq trade. Phil was expensive, but paying it was a sign to the fan base that management wanted to win. Phil Jackson is the one coach in the league who can mean ticket sales, and for that reason alone he is worth the $12 million he gets this year. And Buss will pay it again.

I will say (and this is sort of a Lakers media room consensus) that Phil looks as spry and energetic as he has in years so far this season. He seems to be in less pain, seems to be enjoying himself more. Those are the reasons he will or will not come back. Things could change, but if I were to bet now I’d guess he’d return.

However, the story everyone should read is from Roland Lazenby, about storm clouds on the horizon — the potential post-Jerry power struggle between Jim and Jeannie Buss.

Frankly, I began wondering about two months ago and trying to figure when the shoe was going to fall. You see, the drama, or the latest act of the drama, actually began at the start of the season when Lakers owner Jerry Buss brought son Jim out for his yearly meeting with the media. Jerry picked the moment to announce that he was stepping back and turning the franchise over to son Jim. Think about the insult of that for the power couple of daughter Jeanie Buss and longtime boyfriend Jackson.

I think with the Lakers things are going to stay pretty much as they are for the next several years. I hope those storm clouds never get here.

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The other thing worth reading if from Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus, talking about how the Lakers have become a defense-first team this season.

When the Lakers got off to a good start defensively this year, it looked like more of the same or the effect of Andrew Bynum playing nearly 40 minutes a night at center in Gasol’s absence. Instead, the success has proven more durable. The Lakers are still battling the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the league defensively, and nobody in the league is holding opponents to a lower effective field-goal percentage.

Some of the credit should go to swapping Trevor Ariza out for Ron Artest. Though the former has a solid defensive reputation, Basketball Prospectus’ statistics show Artest holding opponents 8.8 percent below their usual production. By contrast, they were 7.3 percent better against Ariza.

The bigger factor, however, seems to be the Lakers’ improved perimeter defense. All the trapping they did left them vulnerable to allowing open three-point looks on the weak side of the floor. Opponents attempted about a quarter of their shots against the Lakers from beyond the arc last year, the league’s fourth-highest percentage. That rate is down to 21.2 percent this season, below the league average. The success rate on threes is down as well, from 34.9 percent to 30.0 percent, which is best in the NBA. By cutting down on their aggressiveness in trapping and doing a better job of rotating, the Lakers have made life very difficult for opposing offenses.

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Finally, a few of you may remember that Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp was a force on the hardwood as well, playing on a high school powerhouse team along side Sheldon Williams. Well, Kemp just hosted a fundraiser basketball event, and he’s still got some game. (Via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.)

Buss Family Kremlinology

Kurt —  November 23, 2009

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Jerry Buss had his annual early-season media sit down last night before the Lakers destroyed the Thunder and said… basically nothing new.

As it tends to be with the Buss family, it becomes less about what he said and more about what can be inferred from what he said. It’s the Buss family Kremlinology, but without all the fur hats and vodka (well, there probably is vodka). And so what follows are a few of his comments followed by some thoughts.

This year marked the first time that Jim Buss joined his father for the annual sit-down with Lakers beat reporters, perhaps symbolic of the ownership transition the franchise has undergone the past few years. Not only does Jeanie Buss run the business side of the organization, Jerry Buss also revealed that Jim has taken over “around 90 percent” of the day-to-day operations of the franchise.

It’s clear that the power is shifting, although since Jerry Buss still owns the team he is in on all the fun — read big — decisions. But as we knew the grooming is well underway, and maybe farther along than we thought. Someday, Jim will take over as the head man but Jeanie runs the businesses side and has pull as she orchestrated Phil Jackson’s return (something needed at the time not only on the court but to calm angry season ticket holders in the wake of the Shaq trade). There are other Buss children in other roles — running the D-Fenders — and some of that could change when the power fully vests in Jim.

So far, the transition of power seems to be going smoothly, possibly in part because Jerry is still around Hopefully the longer he stays in that role, the smoother things will go when he does pass the baton. That, as Lakers fans, is all we can hope for. A Buss family power struggle behind closed doors would severely harm this franchise (I’m a big believer that good ownership is the key to long-term winning). And if there is a power struggle, we fans would be about as helpless to change it as Russian peasants were to stop infighting in the Kremlin. You just have to hope for a benevolent ruler.

Although Buss admitted he’s not thrilled to have the league’s highest payroll this season, he described $91.3 million in player salary and $21.4 million luxury taxes as money well spent if it delivers a 16th title. … “If we could find a way to save some money and stay at the level of competition we’re at, obviously we’ll try to do that,” Buss said. “But I think in this particular case, all the dollars were well-spent.”

Not sure there is anything new here outside of the Buss pattern we have seen for decades — he will spend to win, but you need to convince him it was a smart move. And get a good deal. Hence the drawn out Odom negotiations and jumping at Artest when Ariza balked. The tea leaves long term here is that while this team is in a championship window, we can continue to expect them to retain top talent.

Buss said he and Jim have spoken about potential replacements for Jackson should he retire after this season, but said he remains optimistic the future Hall-of-Fame coach will return. “He likes to wait until he sees physically how he is at the end of the season,” Buss said. “I think he’s healthier than he was. He was on his motorcycle this summer. That’s always a good sign.”

Not much to read into here, it’s all pretty logical and prudent. Everyone hopes Jackson stays on, but predicting Jackson’s health and the wear and tear of all that travel on a man who had both hips replaced is foolish. In the eventuality he does leave, you need to have a backup plan at least thought out Of course, no discussion of what that plan would be came out of the Buss family mouths.

Among the most pressing issues facing the Lakers is the status of Bryant, who has yet to sign an extension worth up to $91 million that would keep him in purple and gold through 2013-14. Buss declined to comment specifically on the status of the extension out of respect for Bryant’s wishes to keep negotiations private, but he left no doubt the Lakers intend to keep their star well after his current contract expires next season. “We certainly hope so,” he said.

Well, Duh. Who do you think fills Staples Center?

“If he wants to represent Spain, I think he’s entitled to that,” Buss said. “It would be nice if there was more time in between [the European championships and the start of NBA camps] so that he wasn’t overworked . . . . But I think there’s room for all kinds of basketball internationally.”

I’m with Buss here. The Club vs. Country debate is a long and storied one. In this summer’s soccer World Cup some club will lose its highly paid star player for the next season due to injury. But I don’t think that means you can tell a healthy player he can’t go play internationally. For me, that extends beyond the Olympics to other major events That said, I’d still hope Gasol takes this summer off.

The Economy and the Lakers

Kurt —  February 19, 2009


This winter, with the national economy tanking and sports team owners taking hits on stock and real estate, the market for baseball players shriveled up. Bobby Abreu goes to the Angels for just $5 million. Consistent 40 home run guy Adam Dunn to the Nationals for just $10 million. Manny Ramirez still doesn’t’ have a deal.

Except in the Bronx. There, the Yankees spent money like it was 2005, throwing out by far the three largest deals of the off-season.

How did they do that in this economy? CNBC’s Darren Rovell explains:

Think about all the other owners who have gotten pounded this year in the sector of the economy that they might still have their money in.

Think about the New York Mets, whose owners not only lost money from the Madoff mess, but also are in the real estate investment business. So too is Theodore Lerner, the owner of the Washington Nationals, who were hoping to land Teixeira. The Chicago Cubs are being sold by an entity that is bankrupt.

Go down the list and you can see that there’s a lot of people that lost money this year in other businesses. I have no idea where the Yankees are investing their personal money, but the bottom line is that their business is only the New York Yankees.

What does that mean? It means that as long as the Steinbrenners believe that the business of the Yankees will be good, they are not as affected as the others are. Will people still go to games? If not, will they watch the YES Network. It’s a pretty simple equation.

That brings us to Jerry Buss and his family, the majority owners of the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss made his money on real estate deals, but today he is in the Lakers business and very little else.

And right now the Lakers are a very good business, recession or no. The building still sells out at the highest ticket prices in the Association. The Lakers television ratings are up (unlike the Steinbrenners, the Buss family does not own the cable network showing games, but they do get a healthy payment). While Lakers officials said they have felt some pinch from sponsors, go to a game and it does not appear to be significant.

Just how healthy are the Lakers financially, as the second highest valued franchise in the NBA? This is what Forbes says (thanks to Darius for finding this info):

Based on the team valuations made by Forbes for all the 30 teams, the Lakers were pegged at US$ 534 million. Here’s the breakdown:

1. $123 million or 23% comes from the earnings from the league’s shared profits
2. $240 million or 41% comes from the value of the city’s market size
3. $140 million or 24% comes from the stadium earnings (ticket sales, merchandise, food, etc.)
4. $81 million or 14% is attributed to the team’s brand

Last season the Lakers were second in the league in operating profit at $47.9.

All of this ties into the big question for we Lakers fans — just how much is Jerry Buss willing to spend to keep this team together?

This summer, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza will be free agents. The Lakers if they pick up Sun’s option (his deal is two years) will have nine players on the books for next year with a payroll of about $74 million. This season, the luxury tax is at just higher than $71 million, but that number is expected to drop the next two seasons. (To really get a feel for what this means, read the excellent post from the always-amazing Tom Ziller over at Fanhouse. That guy should be bronzed. In a good way, not the Hans Solo way.)

Right now, in Jerry Buss’ head, there is a number of how high he will go. We can speculate all we want about it, but the fact is we have no real idea what that number is. We know he will spend more to win, but we also know he made some cost-cutting roster moves during the three-peat years to keep payroll under control.

Not only do we not know the number, we don’t know if it is possible to fit both Odom and Ariza under that number. Remember, if the Lakers sign both of them, they are still going to have to sign at least three more minimum level players (this year’s late first rounder, maybe Shannon Brown and another pick or free agent). The likelihood that the Lakers would keep Odom and Ariza and use the Mid-Level exception on a free agent seems almost nil.

If Kobe opts out and resigns a max deal extension, he will make about $1 million less (but will extend five years out). That is not a huge savings, but every little bit helps.

No doubt this Lakers roster, as is, can win — the Lakers have the best record in the NBA and are serious title contenders. The question is can the Buss family keep the band together.

One other factor in all of this is AEG, the company that owns 30% of the Lakers and the majority of Staples Center. AEG just spent insane amounts of money to build LA Live, the restaurant and entertainment complex across the street from Staples Center. This is a tough time to open a venture like that, and you need foot traffic to make it work. The kind of foot traffic that a sold-out Staples Center 41 times a season plus playoffs provides.

AEG cannot afford to have the Lakers slip. The question again is how much AEF is willing to pay to make sure they do not.

This is a hard topic, because reading into the Buss family and its finances is about as easy as bringing peace to the Middle East. There is no way to get 100% knowledge or certainty.

But it looks like they should be in position to keep the band together. Unless the market goes crazy this summer and a couple of band members get huge offers. Then, well, who knows?

It’s blown up all over — Jerry Buss sat down with reporters in Hawaii and said he’d consider trading Kobe. He doesn’t want to, but he’ll consider it.

There are plenty of people saying this “dumped gasoline on the almost extinguished fire,” but if Buss had come out and said “we will never trade Kobe” that is what would have set #24 off again.

If you read both stories (LA Times and OC Register) I think this is just Buss being honest about what happened this summer. First, Kobe goes Vesuvius. Eventually Kobe sat down with both Mitch and Buss and, as Buss said, they made their pitches and Kobe said he is still frustrated and would like out. Then I think they both told him “if that’s what you want, we’ll keep an open mind, but we’re not going to trade you for Luther Head and an expiring contract or two.” Buss said he’s kept Kobe apprised of the lowball offers that rolled in, so Kobe would understand.

If Buss had played to the fans and taken a hard line in the interview — directly contradicting what he told Kobe to his face — that is what would have destroyed what is left of his relationship with Kobe, it would have hardened Kobe’s heart toward opting out regardless of what the Lakers did. So Buss professed his love of Kobe, said he wants to make moves that would keep him here (“”I wish he felt differently. And if we win, I think he will feel differently. So we’ll just wait and see if we can win.”) and at the same time put other GMs on notice that they will not be taking lowball offers — come for real or don’t come at all.

And I’m not sure any of this is really a big shocker. Kobe knows that his frustrated outburst hurt his chances of being traded (or getting a trade that would help him out) so he will continue to say all the “good soldier” stuff. If Buss had taken any other tack in that interview, things might have been different.

Buss traditionally does one of these camp interviews, and he usually looks big picture. He’s got short-term issues (Kobe, not to mention Phil’s contract) but panicking on these issues is how teams end up with the Knicks roster from last season.

So, we wait and tonight watch game two of the Lakers and Warriors. As was said after the last game, the Warriors are a team that makes many a defense look disjointed. What we want to see is improvement — from players and the team — as the preseason wears on. So that is what I’m looking for.

Sick and Tired

Kurt —  May 30, 2007

Power.

It’s all about power. The last few days of the Lakers soap opera has been about power, the power to control the direction of the franchise. The power of trust. Kobe’s power as the star player. Jerry Buss’ power as the owner. Jim Buss’ power as the heir apparent. Mitch Kupchack’s power. Jeannie Buss’ power. Jerry West’s power. Magic’s power. Phil Jackson’s power to try to bring it all back together.

And I’m sick of it all, weary of the four-year-olds fighting over the sandbox.

Any regular reader of this blog knows how I feel about the soap opera surrounding the Lakers — I despise it. I like it as much as I like the trend of flopping. I started this blog in large part because I wanted to talk about the Lakers on the court at a time all regular media wanted to talk about what Shaq thought of Kupchak and who Kobe’s wife was talking to at games. I just wanted to talk about the games.

And yet, in the last few days I got sucked into the front office power struggle made public, the “who is the insider?” soap opera. Certainly all this impacts the team on the court, but it’s still more General Hospital than NBA professional. And I feel like I need a shower just following it.

Is it really all that hard for Kobe, Jim and Jerry Buss, Mitch, Phil and anyone else in the loop to sit down in a room and talk? Is negotiating through the media really necessary? Don’t successful organizations have a master plan that everyone is aware of and working toward? Isn’t talking things out face-to-face what good managers and mature adults do? Not everyone has been mature, but now everyone is being immature.

These are the days that try fans’ souls. It is the kind of day that makes me question my fandom (which Dan said so well) and makes me question blogging about it all.

Kobe says he’s tired of talking. I think I speak for a lot of fans when we say we’re sick and tired of this whole situation, too.

Maybe it costs me a bunch of readers, but I’m stepping away from the edge of insanity for a couple days. Write what you want in the comments, but I’m done updating who is fighting for what part of the sandbox for now.

I hope that Kobe and the entire front office can get on the same page, start pulling in the same direction. Like Kobe says in his latest diatribe, I love the Lakers as a franchise and want to see it return to winning. Maybe that is without Kobe, although I’d prefer him to stay.

But the last few days made me queasy. And I need a break from it.

The Downward Spiral

Kurt —  May 30, 2007

In case you missed it — Kobe just asked to be traded.

(Hat tip to Nate Jones.)

I always wanted this blog to be a calm, thoughtful space in the swirling vortex of controversy that can be the Lakers, but I really lack a good big-picture view here. I have but one big question:

Why has nobody from the front office talked to Kobe in the last couple of days?

Maybe they have tried and we don’t know about it, but from what Kobe has said he has not heard from them. To me, that sounds impossible.

He went public right after the team was eliminated from the playoffs, and I doubt his exit interview was a love-in. Now, nothing is going to happen fast — Kobe knows big deals are not made before the NBA Finals even start — but how come he isn’t brought into the loop more on planning? Then, when he goes to the LA Times and ESPN and starts putting on more pressure, how is it nobody from the front office takes charge of the situation, gives Kobe a call and talks him down off the ledge? How are meetings not set up? How do you let a “Laker Insider,” whoever it is in the organization, pick at the one sore scab Kobe has, the trade of Shaq? How do you not calm the man that lets you have $350 seats not even courtside (and puts butts in those seats)?

That, as much as any trade or shot down trade, shows the lack of a coordinated front office. This is basic management stuff.

Now, to be fair, I have heard Kobe do radio interviews in the past year where he said he has been consulted on trades, where he said, “Al Harrington isn’t coming here and I was consulted on the trade.” He has not been totally out of the loop, but exactly what concentric circle he was allowed into is a fair question. To use my own analogy, it’s like trying to figure out the Soviet government what is going on over there.

There are roughly a million problems with trading Kobe, which we can discuss if this really does move forward. There are a lot of problems with the Lakers making any big move (namely the lack of pieces that can be moved). But to me, the ball is in Laker management’s court. I want to see them do something with it.

UPDATE:
Good point by Cary D. in the comments:

But Kobe is a hot-head as well. He’s not in the clear on this one. Has he ever picked up a phone (except to the press) to clear the air on a situation?

UPDATE #2: Nate Jones says one thing that crossed my mind as a possibility (and John R. said it yesterday):

Kobe’s been burnt enough by public relations in the past that he knows how to handle the media now. He’s playing all of us. I think he wanted to get traded but needed to make the Lakers look bad enough first to make him look like the good guy. And from what I’m reading around the nets, it seems like that ploy actually worked.

UPDATE #3: Trading Kobe will be very, very difficult. From the LA Times:

Bryant will obviously waive his no-trade clause, but he has a trade kicker in his contract that is believed to add about $13 million to his total contract value, a cost to be absorbed by any team that acquires him. The money would be paid like a signing bonus and would not count toward the salary cap. The Lakers had to pay a similar fee to Lamar Odom when they acquired him from Miami three years ago, paying him about $8 million.

UPDATE #4: Thanks to LG Gold for putting up in the comments the words of Jerry Buss (via Kevin Ding at the OC Register):

“We are aware of the media reports. However, Kobe has not told us directly that he wants to be traded. We have made it very clear that we are building our team around Kobe and that we intend for him to be a Laker his entire career. We will speak directly to Kobe and until we do that, we will not comment publicly about this.”

I think this supports what I said in the main post — Laker management has been too slow to react. They should have talked to Kobe already, they should have called him days ago.

Now, apparently, Phil Jackson has asked Kobe to calm down a little and wait a few days (via anonymous commenter who heard another ESPN radio interview). If Phil pulls this all back together, how much more power does this give him in the organization?

UPDATE #5: If you have not read the comments at True Hoop from Roland Lazenby, he gives his usual smart and reasoned take on the events, saying that the worst of this “Cuban Missile Crisis” can still be averted. (This is just a portion, go read the whole thing):

If I could do one thing to fix the Lakers? I would send Jim Buss off to owner school with his dad.

Shaquillle O’Neal told me in “The Show” that once Jerry West left, there was never anyone he could trust. (The hubris of the situation smells like the Bulls in 1998, when Jerry Krause determined to rebuild the Bulls.)

It’s a mess in the front office, especially if you’re a player in his prime who is ready to compete for a championship. (Someone pointed out to me once: with all the money the Lakers wasted on players like Brian Grant since O’Neal left, they could have paid Shaq his money.)

Jerry Buss is at an age where it’s transition time. I don’t know if anything can save it. The ideal thing would be for Jim Buss to stand up and say: “I’m going to let the personnel people do their job. We’re going to clear up the front office picture, and re-establish the trust that the players have a basketball person running the show.”