The basketball world knows it, their front office needs to own it, and the
The Lakers are no longer the Lakers, and have not been since their last championship in 2010 coincided with the beginning of the physical decline of owner Jerry Buss. When Buss died in February 2013, an aura of invincibility died with him, and the family's ensuing efforts to imitate his giant footsteps, instead of forging their own path in basketball's new era, have resulted only in embarrassment and defeat.
FOR THE RECORD:
Lakers' image: In the July 5 Sports section, a column about the Los Angeles Lakers' failure to lure big-name free agents was accompanied by an incorrect photo caption. LaMarcus Aldridge, who left Portland as a free agent and turned down the Lakers, has agreed to sign with San Antonio, as the article noted, not with Dallas. —
Buss was a charismatic visionary whose genius gave the team a golden credibility that resonated throughout the league. People paid attention. People felt lucky to be in his presence. When Buss was running things, it seemed that whoever the Lakers wanted, the Lakers got, from the coin flip draft of
Now, when the Lakers talk, those same people just shrug and turn away, witness the case of
When the news broke Saturday that Aldridge was going to sign with San Antonio, it marked the third consecutive off-season that the Lakers failed to convince an All-Star to wear their uniform. First there was the billboard-size failure to retain
Now, they lose out on Aldridge, the most compelling of the humiliations, not only because they were one of two favorites to win his services, and not even because he turned them down after two pitch meetings because the first one went so badly. The scariest part of this failure is that they blew it with Aldridge by trying to sell a brand that no longer exists. It was as if the Lakers officially became the last people on Earth to realize they are no longer the Lakers.
They tried to sell Showtime, a marketing and entertainment phenomenon that is available today in all sizes of
Only in the end did the Lakers try to sell Aldridge on the future of their basketball. But because they have been bereft of talent since the Buss children handcuffed their roster by giving Bryant a two-year, $48.5-million appreciation contract in December 2013 — once again, living in the age of Jerry Buss — their basketball future is muddled.
And if you don't want to believe some silly sportswriter, check out the credentials of all those players who turned them down this summer even after being personally pitched.
Aldridge lives in Southern California, and has viewed the Lakers closely for nine years in the same conference, and still wouldn't sign here.
The courting of Aldridge was as ill-conceived as the master plan that included him. Once again, that plan was based on the Lakers still thinking they were the Lakers.
Flash back to this summer's NBA draft, when the Lakers stunned the basketball world by passing up big man Jahlil Okafor to select guard D'Angelo Russell. When the gold dust settled, the word out of Lakers camp was that they passed on the traditional franchise-changing giant because they were confident they could fill that spot with Aldridge in free agency. In other words, the Russell pick carried an undercurrent of the old Lakers entitlement that they can have whoever they want.
Not anymore. The basketball populous doesn't view them as royalty anymore. The players rarely stop to chat with
Once again the Lakers have been reminded by the rest of the league that they are nothing special, which will lead to a third consecutive season that could be something terrible. Their failure to sign Aldridge leaves them stuck with two point guards, an underachieving big man in Roy Hibbert, who basically was run out of Indiana, and little chance of playing beyond April.
It will be emotional watching Bryant's potential last season, and fun to watch Russell, fellow 2014 first-round pick Julius Randle and upstart Jordan Clarkson try to figure it out. But mostly, it will be sad to watch a franchise so rooted in its past that it can't figure out how to create a future.
The best idea to make them the Lakers again is the same idea that many have supported since Jerry Buss' death.
But Jeanie has said she is going to give her brother two more years to figure it out, apparently basing that timetable on Jim's statement to
That now seems like too much time. One more summer like this should be enough to trigger massive changes, especially since next summer should be a Lakers rebuilding bonanza. That's when Bryant's contract finally comes off the books, leaving the team with heaps of cap space and piles of available money, enough ammunition with enough available free agents — yeah, Durant — to return to greatness.
If Jim Buss can't get it done next summer, he never will. If Jeanie Buss won't make changes necessary after that, she never will.
The Buss family has made such a positive impact on this community for so long, both in the standings and the stands, that so far there has been little public pressure for them to sell the team. But that time could be coming. If next summer does not hold the first fruitful days of a new era, that could be the last straw.