Let there be no doubt. Jeanie Buss is the Lakers’ most powerful executive.
“Ultimately the buck stops with me,” she said in an interview with Time Warner Cable SportsNet. “I’m president and governor of the team and I have empowered the basketball operations, the front office, to put together a basketball team, working within the confines of the collective-bargaining agreement.”
She indicated why the Lakers gave Kobe Bryant a two-year, $48.5-million contract extension last November before he returned from a torn Achilles’ tendon. He eventually played six games, sustained a fractured knee, and has sat out since then.
“We never got the opportunity to do the farewell tour for Magic Johnson,” Buss said. “Kobe, by signing that deal, will have played 20 years for one organization. I guarantee that won’t happen again.... To have the kind of longevity that he’s had makes it extremely special, and I think that Lakers fans understand that.”
One thing they might not like, though, is the crippling affect his contract has on the team’s purchasing power. Buss didn’t sound concerned.
“Too much attention is being paid to salary cap and all that kind of stuff, which is important,” she said. “Why can’t we just talk about the players ... and how a basketball team comes together and not focus on slotting and cap space?
“I don’t wear a hat and a T-shirt with ‘cap space’ on it,” she added. “I have complete confidence in Jimmy and Mitch to put together the kind of team that Lakers fans are used to.”
That would be her brother and team executive Jim Buss, along with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
There’s apparently a plan for success. It involves Kevin Love in 2015 and Kevin Durant or LeBron James in 2016, though Buss didn’t mention their names.
“I don’t know specifics on the plan, but they’re confident and have assured me that next year will be better, measurable by more wins,” she said. “We’ll continue to build from there.”
It can’t get much worse. The Lakers are on pace for their worst record since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.
The plan won’t involve Phil Jackson, who became team president of the New York Knicks on Tuesday. The Lakers didn’t offer him a position because there was “no role in the front office for him, for what he could contribute,” Buss said.
To make room for Jackson would have meant removing her brother as the one in charge of basketball operations. It didn’t happen.
But the Knicks called and Jackson listened.
“It was clear that Phil wanted to go back to work,” Buss said. “He’s too good of a basketball mind to just sit at home in a rocking chair, playing solitaire.”
Buss has spoken to the NBA about a potential conflict of interest. She had dinner earlier this week with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
“I don’t anticipate any problem because I don’t make the basketball decisions on behalf of the Lakers,” she said. “I really don’t see where there would be a conflict.”
Buss wished Jackson well with the Knicks — to a degree.
“The Lakers are my life,” she said. “For him, the Knicks will be a job that will have a beginning and, hopefully for him, success, not over the Lakers, but in the Eastern Conference, and it will someday come to an end because he’s a hired person.
“This is going to be in my family forever.”
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.