Jim Buss doesn’t duck any questions about the Lakers
For the past week, it’s been one story, radio-talk-show and Internet report after the next describing Jim Buss as a power-hungry buffoon seemingly intent on destroying the Lakers.
Most everyone has had their say, almost all speaking from authority, and yet no one was talking to Jim Buss.
It was his fault, of course, for not making himself available earlier, but he did so Friday.
“I don’t consider myself a recluse or anything like that,” he says. “But this is my dad’s team. I like what we’re doing as a group — my dad, Mitch Kupchak and myself — and especially when we win championships, but I work for my dad and that’s who I like to answer to, and who I like to impress.”
Every day a father’s day, he says. “I look at my dad and if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
Not too many happy campers in Lakers Land these days, so much criticism that shortly before sitting down, he put a call into new Coach Mike Brown to apologize.
“I’m surprised by the reaction to Mike’s hiring,” he says. “I wish people heard him speak. Let him show you what he showed us.
“I wanted him to know they are picking on me, which explains why they are picking on him. But it’s a reflection on me, not him. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
As for Buss, he knows he’s being portrayed “as some Looney Tune running down the streets.” But he doesn’t get it, which is why he wants to talk, willing to answer any question, however long it takes.
So for the next 2½ hours he talks about Kobe Bryant, his hopes of retaining Phil Jackson, Rudy Tomjanovich, Carmelo Anthony-for-Andrew Bynum and next year’s roster.
But let’s begin with the picture of Jerry Buss’ No. 2 son, a 51-year-old man wearing a baseball cap atop long blond hair as if the rich kid never grew up with any interest in appearing respectable or responsible.
How can anyone take this guy seriously?
“I go back and forth with the long hair; the receding hairline, I don’t know how to wear it — never have,” he says, while laughing and removing his hat to show a wild mop in full retreat. “Always had a problem with my hair — what do I do with this?”
By the looks of it, fixing the Lakers will be much easier, but a mistake has already been made.
“Looking back on it, we should have contacted Kobe,” Buss says. “Kobe said it was management’s job to pick a coach. He just said, ‘Defense first.’ That’s what we were doing, but we should have reached out to him.”
How will Kobe take to Brown?
“The way Mike impressed the three of us, I would think Kobe would be impressed as well,” he says. “Mike is a workaholic and Kobe is the workaholic.”
If Brown couldn’t control LeBron James on offense, how is he going to do so with Kobe?
“I’ve seen Kobe go off the place a few times, but I’m sure the coach will know how to handle it,” Buss says. “My dad loves Kobe and so do I; we think he has a lot left. And I know Mike has some ideas on how to elongate Kobe’s career.”
Brown’s shortcoming is supposed to be offense.
“All I know is his teams were something like 7-3 against us,” Jim says. “He found enough offense to beat us.”
A year ago Jerry Buss talked about his son running 90% of the basketball business. Much of the media took that to mean Jim had a 90% say on decisions made.
“That’s just not true,” says Jim, a passionate sports fans still upset at the Rams for moving to St. Louis. “Nothing has changed. My dad, Mitch and I discuss everything. If one person feels strongly for something, they might push. I did that when we picked Andrew. But the other two people in the room agreed.
“I do more day-to-day stuff because my dad just isn’t interested, but on the big decisions there is the three of us.”
The media, though, have Buss hiring Brown as a way of making his own mark while purging the memory of Jackson and the triangle offense.
“What do you do about stuff that just isn’t true?” he says.
There have been reports that Buss interviewed only one candidate, Brown.
“No truth to that whatsoever,” he says. “My father, Mitch and I interviewed three candidates: Brian Shaw, Rick Adelman and Mike. All fantastic coaches. When the three of us talked later we all came back to Brown.”
No matter whom the Lakers hired, Buss says, there was going to be criticism.
“Who fills Phil’s shoes?” he says. “We didn’t want him to be replaced. We were hoping we’d win another championship and there would be public pressure and pressure from my dad on him that he’d coach again. First and foremost, that’s who we wanted.”
Some don’t believe the Lakers would pay the price again for Jackson. But Buss says, “We would have paid him,” without mentioning the fact the Lakers will be in a different place when the new mega-billion-dollar TV deal kicks in a year from now.
When Jackson left, he said he hadn’t talked to Jim in a year, the conclusion by some they had a problem.
“I don’t get it; there’s no problem,” Buss says. “We’d bump into each other, but the way I see it, if the coach has an issue, he goes to the GM. If it’s still an issue, then he comes to my dad or me, but there were no issues. All of a sudden it’s turned around, because we didn’t talk, it’s an issue. It was a good thing we didn’t have to talk.”
As for a few other topics:
• On being privileged: “I am blessed thanks to my dad’s hard work, but I’m doing everything I can to learn so I’m ready when I get my opportunity. I’m in no hurry to have that happen.”
• Tomjanovich: “I know I’ve been tagged with that, but it was no different than everything else we do; all three of us thought that was the right move. It was out of our hands when he had health issues.”
• Anthony/Bynum: “Denver never offered Carmelo. We never had a decision to make. We were offered two other players for Andrew, but as a group we had no interest.”
• Next season’s roster: “Who knows about trade opportunities? We don’t think we need major changes. The top seven or eight players will probably be the top seven or eight again next year. Hard to blow up a team that’s capable of winning, and to blow up a team and have a new coach, we’re not sure that’s a good formula.”
• Age and athleticism: “I saw an age stat where Dallas starters averaged one year older than ours and yet we were old. The new thing now is we need to become more athletic, and I think we can at the end of the bench.”
The chat over, Buss was running to meet his two young stepdaughters. One will soon be hitting the golf ball farther than he can; someone probably will spot him on a golf course and let everyone on the Internet know this is how he’s running the Lakers.
“It’s no fun to hear all the stuff being said,” he admits. “But I’ve got it great right now. I can talk basketball every day with my friend, who also happens to be my dad.”
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