We’ve reached a point with the Lakers where when an executive speaks, we have to hold our breath for the inevitable backlash as each sentence is broken down, word by word. Tuesday morning, when tweets came across the timeline that Jeanie Buss would be speaking publicly on the state of the Lakers with Colin Cowherd, my immediate and visceral reaction was “great, more of this.” In following with recent seasons, her comments didn’t meet my already considerably lowered expectations.
The appearance leaves more questions than answers, following a trend the Lakers need to correct if the organization wants to earn back the fanbase’s confidence they’ve lost due to how these last few seasons have gone.
Here’s the full interview:
First and foremost, the vibe that comes across is of someone trying her absolute best to answer every question asked, as best she possibly can. This is part of the problem. It’s impossible for her to come across positively in this situation given how little information she appears to have on the basketball operations side of the franchise.
This being the case, it’s probably best that she doesn’t speak publicly, and her insistence to is getting pretty hard not to consider these appearances as at least a little self-serving. If we’re being honest, it makes sense for her to go this route. The Lakers are coming off the worst two years in franchise history while the aspect Jeanie is in charge of (the business side) has really never been stronger. If Jim Buss’ timeline is not met, she stands to take full control of one of the world’s strongest brands.
Her response to Cowherd’s question about how the team will be graded caught my ear. At first, the exchange is more general and encompasses progress the team might make. Then, however, Jeanie says quite plainly, that the Lakers are going to be graded on wins, which is true to a certain extent, but risks ignoring actual progress. Again, in a spot where Jeanie could have offered clarity on a pretty major crossroads in the organization, we’re left to wonder if Jim isn’t being held to an impossible standard.
Look, one of the utmost priorities in public relations is to use media appearances to shed light on and, hopefully, clarify the goings on within an organization. Now, this isn’t the Lakers’ MO, or anything close to it, but recent appearances have done nothing but muddle the outsider’s perception.
Case in point: Jeanie’s explanation of how she found out about Byron Scott’s firing. (Seen below.)
This is inexcusable. A fully-functioning organization cannot remain as such with half the franchise being so isolated from the other that a decision as large as the firing of the team’s most outward-facing entity outside of only Kobe Bryant is learned via phone notification. No one is blameless, here, as communication is always a two-way street, but this explanation is a public relations disaster.
Look, my mentor in my time in public relations had a very clear motto: if you’re not going to tell your story, someone else will tell it for you. Basically, honesty is the best policy, and trying to get cute with tailoring a message almost never turns out well. Eventually, the truth will either come out, or people will ignore an obviously disingenuous message for something that makes more sense to them. That’s just how this works. When Jeanie says she had no idea of a decision this big, it’s just too hard to believe that an organization of the Lakers’ magnitude can be functioning at such a low level.
Still, let’s take Jeanie at her word and analyze the situation as such. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send someone like Mitch Kupchak for this kind of interview or, God forbid, Jim Buss, who rarely makes an appearance outside of those affiliated with the team? Kupchak is almost unrivaled in his ability to speak to the team’s direction without giving anything away or, conversely, speak for prolonged periods of time without really saying anything at all. This is a legitimate talent neither Jim or Jeanie have shown to this point.
Again, the point of speaking publicly like this is to hopefully clarify the situation, yet all too often, whoever is speaking offers nothing but fuel to the fire of speculation that the communication within the Lakers is nowhere near where it needs to be.
To be absolutely fair, Jeanie says very early on in the interview she was not ready to speak on the Lakers’ coaching situation and, once again, the talk of Jim’s timeline came prompted via questions from Cowherd. The Lakers boast enough muscle to either steer the conversation away from that topic beforehand, present someone more ready to talk on the subject literally everyone in the city is talking about or simply reschedule for a later date to figure out how to go about handling this appearance.
Furthermore and to her credit, Jeanie steered the conversation very clearly away from the coach talk, but walking in unprepared sends a pretty negative message. This gets back to my original point: the Lakers need to reach a point where the chasm between its two factions isn’t so blatantly obvious. No one in this equation is blameless.
A year from now, Jeanie will have one of — if not the — biggest decisions in Lakers history. Jim’s timeline will be up and the organization might move away from at least one (Jeanie’s mentioned moving on from Mitch, too) of its most powerful voices since Dr. Jerry Buss’ passing. How are we to expect Jeanie to make that call, if need be, with all the information she’ll need if she’s so detached that she’d be in the dark on the firing of the head coach?
Jeanie’s done a spectacular job handling the business, but ignoring the effects of poor public relations is an equation for disaster. Just ask the aforementioned and recently departed head coach.