Training camp is here and routines are settling in. Monday’s media day became Tuesday’s 1st practice which then transitioned to Wednesday’s first two-a-day session. On and on this will go into next week when the Lakers will open their preseason schedule against the Kings on October 4th. Basketball is back. It is fantastic.
With the team’s return, however, also comes the residual baggage from season’s past. There may not be a farewell tour to navigate or an old-school coach’s soundbites and strategies try to make sense of, but there are still issues to wade through. Namely, that timeline for contention put forth by VP of Basketball Ops/Co-Owner Jim Buss.
You remember that, right? That’s a dumb question, of course you remember.
During GM Mitch Kupchak’s camp opening makeshift press conference, Buss’ timeline was brought and Mitch basically explained he really can’t do anything about it. The OC Register’s Bill Oram has the write up:
Jim Buss’ pledge has not gone away. This spring will mark the end of the third year since the Lakers’ top basketball executive vowed in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that he would resign if the Lakers did not return to Western Conference contention within three years…
…It’s never been clear whether Kupchak, a decorated executive who has overseen four championship teams in 15 years as the Lakers GM, would get a pass for his demonstrated skill as an executive, or whether he is on the hot seat right along with Buss.
At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s the latter.
These are important questions facing the organization. Kupchak had no answer when asked directly about that dynamic and what top members of the front office need to do to retain their jobs beyond this season.
“I’m not really in a position to debate some of the stuff you just talked about,” he said.
Instead, Kupchak talked broadly about goals for the young team.
First things first, credit Oram for framing this correctly. We do not know if Kupchak’s fate is tied to Buss’. Nor do we know how much influence Kupchak has in dealing with ownership on this specific topic. What we do know — or at least what Kupchak tells us — is that this stuff is happening above his head and that he is “not really in a position” to do much of anything about it. He then pivots to what he wants to see from the team this year. Mitch is good at pivoting. Those Dean Smith fundamentals still serve him well.
In a strange way, Kupchak’s comments comfort me and helps inform my approach to this season.
I have long been a person who, in my own professional life, only worries about the things I can control. The things that happen above my pay grade deserve my attention in how they may or may not impact me, but I don’t worry about these things. I have no input in how those things play out. So, instead, I turn my focus to the things I do have impact on. My everyday performance. My interaction with my staff or colleagues. My general mood and approach to my job.
Shifting the focus back to the Lakers, whatever happens between Jim and Jeanie (and, for that matter, the rest of the Buss children involved with the trust/ownership of the team) isn’t really in anyone’s control but their own. If Jim steps down, he does. If Jeanie fires him, she does. If they both come to the conclusion that they will put the timeline aside and continue to see where this goes, so be it.
I know this situation is there and it is not going away. It will come up any time either Jim or Jeanie make media appearance and, should the Lakers end up having a poor record, the speculation about Jim’s future will be brought to the team’s doorstep. This was always going to be the case after Jim went public with his expectations for contending (something I always thought was silly, for what that’s worth).
That said, I simply cannot muster up the energy to concern myself with this as much as I probably should. It distracts from what I enjoy about being a basketball fan. Maybe that’s naive. And maybe the inevitableness of this story gaining traction throughout the year won’t allow me to avoid it for long. But, like Mitch Kupchak, I’m going to pivot. I’m going to watch the games in earnest, see how the young guys perform, watch for how Luke Walton coaches, and how the veterans balance out the roster with their play and leadership.
And then I’m going to write about all of it. Sure, I realize this won’t be the last time I use this space to discuss Jim’s timeline, but I’m going to do my best to separate that from the fan experience the best way I can. At this point, it’s really all I can do.