It is not new news that Jim Buss (and, by association, maybe Mitch Kupchak) has a self imposed deadline for returning the Lakers back into contention. That word — contention — has been defined as competing for a conference championship and/or an NBA championship, so one would assume a push into the 2nd round with either a win or a very competitive loss would be needed to qualify.
The actual timeline has been somewhat debated, but Jeanie Buss has gone on the record, again, to explain that the timeline is by the end of next season. She reiterated this just a few days ago and USA Today’s Sam Amick has the details:
There is no change to the timeline that Jim first shared in April of 2014, when he indicated that he would resign if the team wasn’t contending for a title by next season. Since then, it has become clear that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak would likely be part of this equation as well.
“I think that (Jim Buss) was very sure of himself when he promised that timeline, and I think that he has everything he needs to fulfill that promise of getting the team back competitive,” Jeanie Buss said. “And when I say competitive, it’s competing for the Western Conference Finals, which would mean at least second round (of the playoffs) – if not more … They have earned the right to take the time that they’ve needed to put together what they want to have out on the court, and if they can’t do that then we have to reexamine how things are going.”
So, there you have it. Again.
I would prefer that Jeanie, every time she goes on the record, wouldn’t feel the need to discuss this timeline. I think it adds needless pressure to an already pressure packed working environment and can be read into as feeding into the perception of discord at the top of the Lakers’ organization. We all know the timeline exists and we all know getting there is more complicated than “having everything (they) need to fulfill that promise.”
There is a massive amount of good fortune that goes into building a true contender and, as history has shown, often doesn’t deal with any sort of timeline. Players grow at their own pace, sometimes a big deal comes out of nowhere. There is also the point that the team can be clearly on the right path of development, but not quite ready to get to where the stated goal is within the stated timeline. But I digress.
When looking at Jeanie’s comment’s, however, it does not seem like any of that type of wiggle room for interpretation exists. Either the Lakers make a huge leap in the upcoming year or top executives are at risk of losing their jobs. Over at Silver Screen & Roll, Harrison Faigen wonders how this might impact decision making this summer:
The worry with such public declarations and a clear deadline is whether or not that threat of accountability will lead to Jim mortgaging the Lakers’ future in an attempt to save his job.
The Lakers’ young core looks promising, but barring a miracle won’t be ready to get to the Western Conference Finals next season. So will Jim look to trade some of those players for more established veterans in an attempt to win now? Could he additionally overpay free agents this summer with contracts the Lakers will regret on the back end for short term gain?
Any of these moves would obviously be a positive if they led the Lakers to contention, but the likelihood of them doing so is small. What is far more likely is that such desperate gambits would lead to a small gain in the near term while ending up prolonging the amount of time before the Lakers are true contenders again.
As Faigen notes, positives could come from reshaping the roster in drastic ways — even if it meant dealing away some young players to get there. As the Lakers learned at the trade deadline, most of the inquiries from other teams centered around their young talent. If those are the pieces teams want and the best way to get better players is to work deals involving the young guys, those are conversations the team should have. Every rational acting team would play out those discussions internally.
Having those talks within the brain-trust isn’t the same as pulling the trigger, however. Any decision the organization makes should be gauging both short and long term implications and looking for options which optimize both. It’s one thing to trade away draft picks or young players when you have a near the end of his prime Kobe + Pau and are trying to extend a championship window. It’s another thing to do so when you’re coming off three of the worst seasons in franchise history in the hopes of meeting a self imposed deadline for building a winner.
This is why Jim Buss needs to wear two hats this summer. As the Lakers’ top basketball decision maker, he should definitely be looking at the best ways to improve the team and get them back to winning at a high level as soon as possible. Executives, like coaches, are hired to be fired eventually. So, finding a way to stay “employed” by building a winner should be a priority.
But Jim isn’t just an executive. He’s a part owner of the team. Even if he steps down from making basketball decisions in a year, his ownership stake in the team will go on indefinitely (there are no indications the Lakers will ever be for sale). Thus, he has a greater responsibility and needs to not only think about the short term, but how today’s moves make sense for 5, 10, 20 years down the line. Grasping for immediate returns in a way which compromises the long term health of the roster is a bad move for any owner.
No one wants to see the Lakers go all-in on a playoff berth next year only to plunge back to the depths of the lottery in another three years. That would be catastrophic to the Lakers’ brand. As President of Basketball Operations and a part owner, Jim Buss needs to understand this better than anyone this summer.