Sins of the Father, Son, & Daughter!
How Jerry, Jim, and Jeanie Buss transformed the Lakers into one of the most dysfunctional organizations in professional sports
The Lakers are proof that family blood is thicker than championship gold. The Buss family Lakers, like the Steinbrenner family Yankees and York family 49ers, must learn to separate family business from corporate management.
As great as Jerry Buss, George Steinbrenner, and Eddie DeBartolo were as iconic professional sports owners, each made devastating mistakes by turning their legendary franchises over to progeny instead of professional managers. When Jerry Buss died in 2013, he made the fatal mistake of turning over the management of the Lakers to his children, with control of team basketball operations to son Jim and the team business operations to daughter Jeanie.
Jim Buss’ unsuccessful reign as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers lasted four years from his father’s death in 2013 until his firing by sister Jeanie Buss in 2017, with the Lakers missing the playoffs each year. Unfortunately, before Jim Buss was fired, he and general manager Mitch Kupchak made two egregious mistakes in free agency by overpaying Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng with huge contracts that would hamstring the Lakers.
Jeanie Buss’ first mistake after taking over the Lakers in February 2017 was hiring Magic Johnson, who lacked the experience, demeanor, or work ethic to run a pro sports franchise, to be the President of Basketball Operations. She then followed that up by personally hiring the equally inexperienced Rob Pelinka as general manager rather than allowing Magic Johnson to select his own general manager, a move that would come back to haunt the Lakers.
Summer of 2017, Magic Johnson went to work, trading D’Angelo Russell, Timofey Mozgov, and the #27 pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez in a move to create cap space to sign two max contract free agents summer 2018. While Johnson did sign LeBron James to a four-year contract that summer, he was not able to sign a second superstar and surrounded James with a meme team of vets on 1-year deals rather than the elite shooters LeBron needed.
While injuries to LeBron James and the Lakers’ young core didn’t help, the result was the Lakers missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season and LeBron missed the playoffs and Finals for the first time in fourteen seasons. Then, after an internecine struggle between Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, Johnson stunned everybody by suddenly resigning before the Lakers’ last game of the season, followed by Luke Walton being fired as head coach.
While Johnson’s reign resulted in another losing season, his resignation gave Jeanie Buss a fortuitous opportunity to clean house and bring in respected proven professional front office executives to replace Johnson and Pelinka. Unfortunately, Jeanie fumbled that opportunity by deciding not only not to replace Magic Johnson with a proven experienced front office executive but also to keep Rob Pelinka and increase the power of Linda and Kurt Rambis.
Jeanie Buss’ frustrating and deplorable mismanagement of the Lakers since she took over the reigns of the franchise after firing brother Jim is the latest example of what happens when family amateurs run a pro sports franchise. Now, after what looked like a good decision to hire Ty Lue to replace Luke Walton, the Lakers new front office fumbled the negotiations by insulting Lue with a low ball three-year offer, leading to his withdrawing his interest.
While it’s possible the Lakers and Lue might return to the table, it appears Linda and Kurt Rambis were behind the refusal to offer Lue more than three year. The Lakers are now expanding their head coaching search to include a trio of retread candidates, including Frank Vogel, Lionel Hollins, and Mike Woodson. Apparently, these three will be added to Juwan Howard and Jason Kidd, the two remaining candidates whom the Lakers already interviewed.
With the NBA Draft and free agency both looming in less than two months, the Lakers front office has become completely discombobulated and is now a laughing stock around the league. Nobody knows who’s in charge, which doesn’t bode well as the team faces a series of franchise defining decisions that must made this summer. They appear to have no president of basketball operations, a weak lame duck general manager, and now no head coach.
With the future of the franchise on the line, the Los Angeles Lakers are in a survival mode with chaotic dysfunction everywhere. In a way, the sins of the father, son, and daughter have finally returned to roost in the worst way.
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