7:34 PM EDT, March 11, 2014
They are losing more games by larger margins than anyone could imagine. They are losing more fans in bigger chunks than anyone thought possible.
They have lost star players to injuries, star free agents to other teams, star power in their building to the Clippers, and even the glitter off that star from the hamburger ad that occasionally adorns the backs of the Laker Girls.
None of which compares to what they could be losing next.
The Lakers are about to lose one of the greatest minds in basketball history, and they appear too dysfunctional to do anything about it.
If Phil Jackson is indeed going to take over the front office of the New York Knicks in the coming days — as has been reported by several outlets — a serious question should be posed to the Buss children, who seem intent on quickly frittering away their revered father’s legacy.
If they can’t even get together to find a desk in their offices for an 11-time NBA championship coach who is engaged to one of the co-owners and lives right down the street and has repeatedly said he wants to return, then what are they doing even owning this team?
This should be a slam dunk. This should have happened the minute last season ended and it was clear that the Lakers were facing at least a two-year rebuilding project. The reason the Knicks want Jackson now is why the Lakers should have nabbed Jackson then.
He is aura. He is credibility. He is the guy you want calling your potential free agents. He is the guy you want watching the private workouts of your potential draft picks. He is the guy you want hiring your new coach, the guy you want bridging the gap between the veteran players and that coach.
He is not a deal-with-agents guy, but that is General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s strength. He is not a schmoozing guy, but that’s his fiancee Jeanie Buss’ job. Just as the Knicks think he would be the perfect man to bring one of his former franchises back to glory, the Lakers should have been thinking the same thing.
Critics say he has never worked in the front office before and doesn’t have the health or energy to meet the demands of the job. Hey, this is a guy who ran Lakers practices in jeans and sandals, a guy who sat on the Lakers’ bench in a high chair, a guy who rarely raised his voice and never called timeouts.
Phil Jackson coached 11 NBA championship teams while looking and acting nothing like an NBA coach. There is no reason he couldn’t redefine a team president’s role in New York.
Of course, there is no reason he shouldn’t be doing it at Staples, except for what have become the two most dreaded words in Los Angeles sports since “Frank McCourt.”
Those words are, of course, “Jim Buss.” He’s the guy whose father left him in charge of Lakers basketball operations even though his basketball resume had mostly consisted of hiring coaches Rudy Tomjanovich and Mike Brown while drafting and fighting for Andrew Bynum.
It was Jim Buss, everyone will remember, who left Jackson dangling during the Lakers’ last coaching search before hiring Mike D’Antoni instead. It is Jim Buss who, by all accounts, is reluctant to rehire Jackson because he feels insecure and threatened by Jackson’s basketball knowledge and his sometimes smug way of sharing it.
It is Jackson who once acknowledged that he ordered a team plane to take off without Buss because he didn’t show up on time. And it is Jackson who is engaged to Buss’ sister Jeanie, which caused a huge rift since Jackson was snubbed for D’Antoni.
If Jeanie were in charge of the entire organization, Jackson would be leading the front office right now. But her father gave her only the business side. So Jim continues to call the basketball shots, which would mean that to hire Jackson, he would have to put aside his ego, essentially fire himself, and act for the good of Lakers fans.
Remember them? Lakers fans? The Buss family seems to have forgotten them these days, which has led to Lakers fans’ forgetting to show up for the game, and the attendance and sponsorships are only going to keep falling.
If the Lakers actually let Phil Jackson go to New York, at some point the Buss family members must ask themselves if they really want to keep owning this team. Seriously. If the burden of following in the giant footsteps of their late father is too great, if the family strife is too prohibitive, there is no shame in admitting it. This has happened before in professional sports, with the Miami Dolphins after their founder, Joe Robbie, died in 1990. His children attempted to run the team for several years before finally selling to Wayne Huizenga because of, among other things, “discord within the family,” according to a family attorney.
If the Buss family wants to sell the Lakers, there would be plenty of potential buyers offering plenty of money. But if they still want to actually run the team with the championship legacy created by their father, then they need to actually run it instead of simply fighting over it. Agreeing that Phil Jackson belongs here instead of New York would be a nice start.
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