The Busses try to keep the franchise rolling
Where have you gone, Jerry Buss?
If sports are a shared experience handed down from fathers to sons, it’s not every dad who can give his boy the NBA’s glamour franchise.
As Jim Buss’ first solo decision, the coach search was a Lakers landmark before it led to Mike Brown.
Well, people didn’t like the Louisiana Purchase, either.
However it turns out, Brown didn’t hire himself, making it unfortunate the sky fell on him.
Actually, Jim didn’t appoint himself, either, making it unfortunate the sky fell on him too.
The question is not what Jim should have done, like run Brown’s name past their franchise player.
Don’t they have any grownups to save Jim from himself ... like, say, his father?
Jerry may think this stuff is easy, because for him it was.
Jerry made big, visionary decisions — we want a flashy team, we’ll go all the way in the Shaquille O’Neal chase, risking winding up without a center — but he deferred to GMs Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak.
When the owner’s instincts ran counter to theirs, he gave way.
It extended all the way to fledgling assistant Paul Westhead, who’d been in the NBA for three weeks when coach Jack McKinney suffered head trauma falling off a bicycle, forcing Westhead to take over in the fall of 1979.
With the Lakers eyeing an experienced assistant he could lean on, Elgin Baylor, Westhead told Buss he wanted Chick Hearn’s color commentator, Pat Riley.
“Obviously, I had coached six games by then and Riles had zippo,” said Westhead later, laughing.
“We were like the Blues Brothers. I could understand their apprehension.
"[Buss] would rarely say, ‘No, I think that’s a bad decision.’
“He’d say, ‘I think you should think that over.’ ”
Westhead thought it over and said he wanted Riley.
“Well,” said Buss, “it’s your decision.”
Riley became a good assistant, capable of taking over — that’s another story — making it a good no-call by Buss.
Riley’s chance came two seasons later when Westhead was fired.
Buss asked West to coach.
West wasn’t doing that but agreed to help Riley fix the offense.
Buss, thinking it would lead naturally to West taking over, announced they would have co-coaches, with West as “offensive coach” and Riley as “coach.”
So who would talk after games, asked the Santa Monica Outlook’s Mitch Chortkoff on behalf of the incredulous press.
“We discussed that,” said Buss.
[Actually, they hadn’t.]
“In that I’m really making the move to change the offense and Jerry West will be in charge of the offense, he will be the one you will question. [Grinning] But you can talk to Pat, as well.”
West then took the podium and announced he was working for Riley, lateraling him the job.
“I said if no one wants it, I’ll take it,” Riley wrote later.
Riley went on to become a coaching great, making it another fabulous no-call.
Then there was the deal in which Buss agreed to send James Worthy to Dallas for Mark Aguirre and Roy Tarpley, before begging out when West objected. Buss told Mavericks owner Don Carter:
“If I make the trade, I’ll lose my general manager.”
Tarpley soon began a career in rehab, making it yet another great non-call.
Jim, on the other hand, is fearless.
If hiring Brown was a group decision, as he insists, it’s true his father didn’t overrule him and Kupchak, who acknowledged privately this wouldn’t be his call, didn’t resign.
Wiggy as the Lakers were, there was always something lucid about them, Jerry Buss’ trust in his professionals.
And there was always something great: his unfailing go-for-broke commitment.
Jerry Buss began detaching in the ‘90s, when even West was told to go through Lakers attorney Jim Persik.
Jim arrived detached.
While supposedly learning the operation, he jauntily told Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz 10 guys in a bar could draft as well as GMs did.
It’s not rocket science. With any interest in the day-to-day operation, Jim could be functioning on the level of respected owners’ sons like Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo or Dallas Cowboys VP Stephen Jones.
Not that you’d ever confuse the Lakers with anyone else.
Jerry wasn’t even there when they won their 2009 title in Orlando.
The team said he stayed home so Jim could accept the trophy, showing the torch had passed.
Jim wound up not going, either.
Young Joey Buss, who had never made an appearance on the team’s behalf, was left to accept the Larry O’Brien Trophy and announce: “We have two more to go to beat the Boston Celtics!”
With the Celtics at 17 and the Lakers then at 15, it was three, but Joey didn’t appoint himself, either.
With or without a Jerry-mandated return to a more inclusive process, anything can happen from here....
Like Kobe Bryant asking to be traded if things don’t go well, which in Lakerdom means winning a title.
Bryant’s ongoing silence means just what it looks like.
He’ll definitely emerge to say the right things … even if he drags it out to training camp, as in 2007, trying to make it work as long as he’s here.
When the Lakers run into trouble, then we’ll see where Bryant’s head is.
At 34 next summer, with the Busses aware how much trouble Kobe can be, I think they’d move him if he asked.
It’s way early to say where, but when did that ever stop me?
New York, for Carmelo Anthony.
Kobe will accept a trade only to a mega-market where he has a chance to win a title.
The Knicks, having just been knocked out in the first or second round, will understand Milo and Amare Stoudemire don’t work together.
With Kobe, Amare and say, Chris Paul, they’d be contenders.
The Busses may see Melo as a star they can build around (good luck).
There was no unhappy-Kobe scenario until they hired the only coach he hadn’t signed off on, without talking to him.
Hiring a mannequin would have been better than making a choice that courted their franchise player’s displeasure
A journey of 1,000 miles is supposed to start with the first step, not end with it. However this ends, the transition is under way.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.