Column

When the time comes for the Lakers to clean house, Jeanie Buss will be up for it

To figure out where Jeanie Buss stands, it is important to first understand where she sits.

The Lakers boss doesn’t watch her team’s games from a shadowed Staples Center suite. She doesn’t watch them from a heavily guarded courtside seat.

Buss basically sits in the stands, in the first row of the first section behind courtside, on the corner of an aisle where she is easily visible and generally accessible. She doesn’t sit with celebrities, she sits with friends. She doesn’t see the game as the ruler of the great Lakers empire, she watches it as a fan.

Her first love is those fans. Her priorities are those fans. Her Twitter feed is even filled with silly notes and photos from those fans.

Right now, Buss knows those fans are going through hell, and here’s guessing she’s gearing up to do something about it.

In the wake of the worst loss in Lakers history Sunday in Dallas, it seems clear Buss has smartly begun to seriously ponder a spring cleaning of the  front office tandem of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

Jeanie Buss, the team president, won’t talk about it. No decision needs to be made for several months. It will take some gumption for her to push her brother aside despite his infamous public timeline set three years ago. This will be her most important, yet painful, decision since she took over the team in the wake of her legendary father Jerry Buss’ death four years ago.

But here’s betting that when the time comes, Jeanie Buss will be up for it. It is hard to believe she would suddenly ignore the same fans she has long embraced. It is difficult to imagine she will risk allowing the Lakers to continue down a path that has gone from rebuilding to reprehensible.

Three springs of top draft picks, and they still stink. One summer of nearly $150 million in free-agent spending, and they still stink. Months after Kobe Bryant’s departure was supposed to make everything better, everything has become worse.

Something has to change here. Everyone has been seeing it and, on Sunday, everyone felt it.

A fourth consecutive nightmare season reached another nadir with a 49-point beating at the hands of a Dallas team that has one of the five worst records in the league. This wasn’t Golden State. This wasn’t San Antonio. This was a Mavericks team whose attack was led by somebody named Justin Anderson and Seth — not Steph — Curry.

The 122-73 loss by a bunch of kids who have so sadly become so comfortable with failure — and why not, that’s all they’ve done for three years! — was reminiscent of two other seminal blowouts in recent seasons.

In the final days of last season, the Lakers were wiped out by 48 points by the Utah Jazz, equaling the worst loss in franchise history and the worst loss in Bryant’s career. Turns out, it was also the last straw for their struggling coach. A few weeks later, Byron Scott was fired.

Two seasons earlier, also in March, they set the franchise low mark with a 48-point loss to the Clippers that became the final straw for another coach. A couple of months later, Mike D’Antoni was gone.

No, Luke Walton isn’t getting fired. He’s just getting started. Everybody loves Luke. He’s been their biggest acquisition and brightest hope.

This historic loss points directly to a front-office failure to build a roster foundation for the future. From the trades for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, to the drafting of D’Angelo Russell, to the terrible summer signings of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, the Lakers’ roster has been in a downward spiral since the moment the league nixed that deal for Chris Paul five years ago.

Yes, David Stern’s decision was unconscionable. The Lakers were absolutely jobbed. While the Clippers were given a key to several years of success, the Lakers’ entire blueprint for future titles was instantly torn apart and they were forced to rework a roster on the fly.

But still, that was five years ago. They’ve had time to recover and rebuild, but haven’t. In the five-plus seasons since the Paul trade was nixed, the Lakers have gone 167-275. Amid a roster of ever-changing coaches and players, the only basketball constant during that time has been the personnel leadership of Jim Buss, the executive vice president of basketball operations, and Kupchak, the general manager.

Might it be time for a Buss family meeting to discuss their future? Actually, about three years ago, they had such a meeting, during which Jim Buss made that landmark statement he revealed in The Los Angeles Times with Mike Bresnahan, former Times sports writer who is now an analyst for Spectrum Sportsnet.

In a story in April of 2014, Buss admitted to Bresnahan that he stood up in a family meeting and promised to resign his role as basketball boss —  he would obviously keep his ownership stake — if the team didn’t noticeably improve within a few years.

“I was laying myself on the line by saying, ‘If this doesn’t work in three to four years, if we’re not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed.’’

Approaching the third-year anniversary of that mandate, the Lakers are not contending, they are embarrassing. Instead of being the best team in the Western Conference, they are, actually, the worst, with a 16-32 record and six wins in their last 28 games.

Jeanie Buss has never refuted the mandate, and her recent publicized dinner and game-viewing with Magic Johnson was a step toward her figuring out the future.

Time’s up on the timeline? Seems like it.

For a third straight year, the Lakers are back in a position where losses are better than wins, anything to keep their top-three protected draft pick, an organization with 16 titles once again being asked about tanking.

“When you start losing on purpose, I think the basketball gods come back to get you in the long run,’’ Walton said Tuesday to reporters.

The sorry truth is, they don’t need to tank to keep tanking. They need to keep playing these kids to learn which three or four of the six they will keep. Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle seem to be the only locks. The rest of this season will probably used for further evaluations.

The big decisions will probably be made after the season. The question is, who will be making them? The only certainty is, Jeanie Buss will have to make the first one.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke

ALSO

Lakers' Brandon Ingram experiencing rookie growing pains

No change of direction for Coach Luke Walton after a 'special' Los Angeles Lakers loss

Lakers' season takes another turn in Dallas, this time for worst loss in franchise history

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
68°