It could be a long, bleak era for Lakers but a short one for Jim Buss

Jim Buss said he'll step aside as Lakers personnel chief if they aren't contenders in 3-4 years, but why wait?

Those "three to four years" Jim Buss gave himself to straighten out the Lakers are shaping up as a timeline to nowhere, except maybe basketball oblivion.

A month into the season, the Lakers are 3-13 and can't even mark time properly.

They lost an eight-point lead in the final five minutes Friday against a team that was supposed to be more dreadful than they are.

You want an injury excuse? The Minnesota Timberwolves were missing starters Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, so spare us any blah-blah-blah about the Lakers playing without the second-string quartet of Steve Nash, Julius Randle, Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly.

Stuff happens. In the Lakers' case, the wounds are mostly self-inflicted, Buss navigating free agency as if the man running the team's basketball operations pulled his ever-present cap over his eyes and tried to walk across Figueroa during rush hour.

He used an all-or-nothing approach the last two summers and there was no need to guess which side the Lakers came out on. Their resulting rosters weren't going to make the playoffs, fully intact or not.

Throw in season-ending injuries to Nash, Randle and Henry, and this season's team may very well vie for ignominy. The Lakers have won 18.8% of their games, easily putting them on pace to "top" the 1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers, who went 19-53 to win 26.4% of their games.

The current Lakers are last in the NBA in defense, last in the Western Conference standings, last in watchability.

How does Buss justify this product to fans paying four figures every game for courtside seats? (Perhaps more important, how do those fans rationalize those prices to their accountants?)

It's time to face some painful purple-and-gold facts. The Lakers brand isn't what it was, no matter how many times they reference their 16 titles or make slick video presentations to free agents narrated by Tobey Maguire. What's their working theme these days? We were the Lakers?

Dwight Howard said no. Carmelo Anthony said no. Pau Gasol said yes . . . to taking less money with the Chicago Bulls.

Just imagine what the Lakers might look like had they not lucked into Jeremy Lin via a salary dump and Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause.

Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak failed to bring in the kind of mid-tier free agents who would have kept the Lakers competitive and provided tradable assets, instead waiting for, well, what, exactly? The summer of 2015?

Let's take a look at the transformative talents and where they're likely headed in free agency.

LaMarcus Aldridge has pledged to become "the best Blazer ever," which would be difficult were he to become a Laker.

Kevin Love is not going to give up at least one more year of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving for one year of Kobe Bryant and scraps.

Marc Gasol essentially grew up in Memphis, where he has attained Elvis-like status for the team with the best record in the NBA.

Rajon Rondo would be an injury risk similar to Nash even if he made the unlikely move from the Boston Celtics to their most hated rival.

Goran Dragic is probably not going to leave behind brother Zoran, whose two-year contract with the Phoenix Suns smacked of nepotism, not to mention heady management.

Other top free agents such as Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap, Omer Asik and Wesley Matthews are more complementary pieces than franchise-altering stars.

In other words, get ready for this darkest of Lakers eras to stretch into the foreseeable future. They are destined to miss the playoffs in back-to-back years for only the second time in franchise history and are a strong bet to "three-peat" next season, even with the return of Randle and the possible infusion of two first-round draft picks this summer.

Nothing is clicking for the man who put himself on the clock during an April interview with The Times.

"If this doesn't work in three to four years," Buss said, relaying a message he had passed on to his family, which collectively runs the Lakers, "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."

It's been seven months since Buss uttered those words. Can the Lakers really afford to wait another few years to confirm what is already obvious?

Twitter: @latbbolch

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