Ronnie Lester speaks out as Lakers cut longtime employees
His demeanor always has been quiet, low-key and professional, always the loyal Lakers employee for 24 years, the last 10 as the team’s assistant general manager.
Now Ronnie Lester is speaking out — and not just for himself, but also for other longtime Lakers employees who must find jobs after the team parted ways with them because of the NBA lockout.
Some were told their contracts would not be renewed and some were laid off. All told, about 20 Lakers employees are, or soon will be, looking for jobs, including some of Phil Jackson’s former coaching staff.
It was the manner in which they were let go by one of the most successful and profitable franchises in the NBA that bothered Lester.
“You think of the Lakers and you think they are a great organization,” Lester said. “But if you work inside the organization, it’s only a perception of being a great organization. It’s probably not a great organization, because great organizations don’t treat their personnel like they’ve done.”
Lester’s contract runs out at the end of this month. He said he has sold his house in Los Angeles and plans to move out of the city while he seeks another job in the NBA. Lester said he will hire an agent.
Lester said Jim Buss, the vice president of player personnel and son of owner Jerry Buss, and his siblings are making more decisions and have increased roles.
Lester said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak wants him to return, but there is resistance inside the organization.
“Mitch wants to bring me back, but he can’t get the Busses [Jerry and Jim] to agree to bring me back,” Lester said.
Lester was asked whether it was true that Jim Buss has taken Jackson’s former office, which would imply that Buss will be around more.
“Jim Buss is not around much,” Lester said. “The only time he is here consistently is a week or two before the draft.”
A Lakers spokesman said the team declined to talk about Lester’s comments.
All NBA teams were informed by Commissioner David Stern that if they make any comments about the lockout they will be fined up to $1 million.
The Lakers did not offer contracts to four of the five members of the team’s training staff and couldn’t guarantee that they would rehire them after the lockout.
Chip Schaefer was the Lakers’ director of athletic performance and had been with the team since 1999. His contract ran out June 30 and he is unemployed.
Alex McKechnie had been the team’s athletic performance coordinator since 2003. He landed a job Thursday with the Toronto Raptors as their director of sports science.
Marko Yrjovuori had been the massage therapist for seven years and Marco Nunez was the assistant athletic trainer for three years. Both still are out of work.
“After I left, I sort of needed a guarantee that we would come back,” Nunez said. “Because it was left open, I had to take that as a ‘no.’ I can’t wait on that. I’m not even going to wait for the lockout to be over before I start looking for a job. That may mean my NBA career comes to an end. I hope not.”
Rudy Garciduenas had been the Lakers’ equipment manager for 26 years before he was laid off.
Other Lakers employees who will be unemployed at end of the month include scouts Irving Thomas (10 years with the team), Adam Filippi (10 years), Gary Boyson (six), Gene Tormohlen (43) and Kevin Grevey (10).
“They’ve done a great job for us and it’s just sad that the organization is letting people go without communicating with these people during the course of the [lockout] situation,” Lester said. “It affects people’s lives. Not only those scouts, but they have families too and it affects their lives. That’s what is so depressing about it, so sad about it.”
All of the scouts are in the same position as Lester.
“I don’t have any illusion of grandeur here,” Thomas said. “They had a lot of success before we got here, and they are going to have success after we leave. I’m just fortunate I had a chance to be here with the Lakers. We had a chance to win three championships in my time here, so I’m looking forward to maybe helping another organization win championships.”
Because of the NBA lockout, there have been reports that the Minnesota Timberwolves have laid off 11 business-side employees, the Charlotte Hornets have let go at least seven employees and the Detroit Pistons have fired 15.
The Clippers have retained all of their coaches under Vinny Del Negro, and there haven’t been any reports of the team making any layoffs. Repeated calls to the Clippers were not returned.
Lester wondered why the Lakers couldn’t keep more employees on their payroll, given all the money the team has made.
According to Forbes, the Lakers had an operating profit of $33.4 million on $214 million in revenue for the 2009-10 season, and the team is valued at $643 million.
The Lakers recently signed a 20-year television deal with Time Warner Cable, an agreement that starts with the 2012-13 season and reportedly is valued at $4 billion.
“I don’t want anybody to lose their jobs,” Lester said. “But I am curious about something. Why is it just the basketball operations people losing their jobs? That’s what I want to know.”
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