- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here's the rest of the sweeping interview with Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss: (See Part 1 here)
Q: Let’s talk about you. Do you feel like you’re at a point in your career with the Lakers that you’re beginning to, for lack of a better term, spread your wings a little bit and kind of come into your own with responsibilities and kind of your voice?
“Am I prepared, is that what you’re asking?”
Q: No, not if you’re prepared. Is this your moment? Do you feel like you have more responsibility, more say?
“It’s like watching your kid grow up. Somebody that you haven’t seen in a year comes in and all of the sudden says, ‘Holy crimminy! Look how tall they’ve gotten!’ I do this every day, so I don’t think it’s one day I walked out and started doing this [Buss flaps his arms] kind of thing. I think it’s so gradual that I really haven’t seen the growth that I have. Now, if I look back five years, yes, there’s a lot of responsibility and a lot more say and a lot more decision making, but it wasn’t overnight. It’s been a long process. It’s a fun process, but it’s been a long process and a lot of teachers. Hall of Famers kind of thing. So, this year I think it’s coming to fruition because my dad has mentioned that I’m responsible now for the decisions. But really, I haven’t felt it. It seems like I do this all the time.”
Q: You mention your dad. What’s Dr. Buss’ role with the franchise?
“The boss. Same as it’s ever been. Wait, there’s a song like that ...”
Q: Same as it ever was ...
“Same as it ever was, yeah, that’s it. Same as it ever was. If there’s a decision to be made that’s important to the franchise -- a player movement -- he’s the final hammer. I’ll have a recommendation, Mitch might have a different recommendation and we’ll just let him decide. Usually Mitch and I are on board together. We’ll hack it out first and then we’ll go with a recommendation kind of thing, ‘This is what we feel we should do.’ And there have been times he’s stopped them. There are times where he says, ‘No, I don’t want that.’ So, I mean, it’s his decision. He’s the final guy.”
Q: It seems like yours and Mitch’s relationship is pretty strong. Would you say most of the time all three of you guys are in harmony? Is there healthy disagreements?
“Oh, it’s healthy. We couldn’t survive if we were yes men to each other or to my dad. The three of us will have an opinion, we’ll argue our opinion and then eventually, it gets hashed out to where we’re all on board or one guy isn’t (and) two are and it doesn’t really matter which two or which one. Except for my dad. If it’s two against him, then we’ll probably lose that battle.”
Q: But, someday the buck will stop with you. That’s where it’s headed. You mentioned how gradual it is, but do you feel any pressure to that. That you’ll be responsible for that mantle at some point?
Q: Do you look forward to it? Are you excited about it?
“No, because then that means my dad is not involved. So, no, I don’t look forward to it. Am I worried about it? No. Not at all.”
Q: Have you ever consulted with or reached out to other people like George Steinbrenner’s sons or anyone else in a similar position in terms of just talking about the experience?
“No. The reason is because it’s basically a family-owned business and this is all we do. So, I don’t know if they’re in the same position I am. They have other businesses. They’re CEOs of other businesses. I’m not. I think my main focus, obviously my whole focus, is on the Lakers and theirs might not be (solely on their teams). I don’t reach out like I’m in a position where you can relate to me, no.”
Q: Do you feel like the Mike Brown hiring was a signature moment in terms of this year in showing how much you’ve grown in terms of your position?
“The Mike Brown decision was not my decision only. It was a collective unit and that was Mitch, my father and I. We went through the interview process, which, I’m sure you’re aware of who they were. It wasn’t my decision. People label that, I’m not sure why. I guess because they just want to. I’m not sure where that came from. It was a collective agreement that he was very impressive. We love his attention to detail. We felt that he was a fit for these kind of players and I have no regrets whatsoever.”
Q: It just seemed like it went fairly quickly. Was the fact that Golden State was also interested in Mike may have been the reason why you decided to make a move so quickly on him?
“I don’t know if it was like, ‘We have to do it today,’ kind of thing. It was just we went through and when we got to Mike he was so impressive that we felt we should shut down the process and hire him. If he wasn’t impressive, I think we would have continued on. I guess it felt like we did it fast, but at the same time it could have taken a lot longer, but the process was cut short by his impressiveness.”
Q: How would you describe your management style or your approach to your job?
“I lean on a lot of people, as far as Mitch’s knowledge. I rely on a lot of peoples’ opinions from top to bottom. I’ve always done that. My entire career and everything I’ve done is rely on people who are experts. I’ve had no problem taking opinions from Mitch, Kobe, Magic, it doesn’t matter ... Phil Jackson. Then I process it. If I have a gut feeling, sometimes I’ll go with the gut feeling, but most often it’s basically through a long process of thinking and getting opinions.”
Q: You told Lakers.com, “I’m a numbers guy.” Can you get into that with me?
“I’m not sharing my numbers with you (laughing). Jeez. Wow.”
Q: Well, you don’t have to be that specific (laughing). But, I’d like to know more about your advanced metrics. Obviously Daryl Morey gets a ton of credit, that being his reputation. What are you seeing that maybe everybody else isn’t necessarily seeing?
“To separate my numbers from other people’s numbers, basically I have a defensive rating, basically, that involves the offense, defense and then the impact depending on how much they play. A guy that plays 12 minutes a game might actually have a bigger impact (with my formula) than a guy that plays 30 minutes a game. Those are the ways that I find players that I think might be out of position or have not played enough or are out of coaches’ favor with other teams and I start to focus in on those kind of guys. I think (Ramon) Sessions is a very good example. I think if you checked out, according to my numbers, the impact value was a lot stronger than what he was being played, so therefore he was under the radar to his own team. But we felt (he was valuable) and the rest is history with that.”
Q: Is this a formula you developed yourself or do you have other people in your scouting department that you worked on this with?
“No, myself. I’m just sick that way. People would be so bored with me it’d be scary. I’m up to all hours of the night doing numbers. Trying to tweak it. Trying to get it better. Seeing if it truly (corresponds). If I think a guy is an impact player, then I’ll start watching him for two or three games and go back to see if I was correct the way I view it. I also look into the person. First of all, if I like a player, then I’ll check his numbers. I always have the numbers for everybody, but I don’t get to see everybody play. But if I sit there and like, I think Josh McRoberts was an example of that. He caught my eye. Just his activeness. And I felt, let’s look at his impact numbers. Then it gives you a good gauge of what to pay a player, based off his impact. It’s interesting because you can kind of divide it back into it and actually get a number, dollar per impact, kind of thing (laughing). It comes out very interesting. Very interesting.”
Q: I think that’s almost a way you can quantify how you guys can have an advantage still despite everything else involved with the CBA.
“I think it’s a huge advantage, me personally. Mitch is more of a GM that relies on his intuitiveness of watching players. Therefore, I can rely on him because he’s not a numbers guy. He understands numbers, but we’re not arguing numbers. It’s more like, ‘This guy on paper, blah, blah, blah. What do you think of him, Mitch?’ And then I can rely on that because that’s what he does and he does it very well. So, it’s a good team effort on everything we do.”
Q: OK, I want to read you this quote ...
Q: In 1998, you told “Sports Illustrated” magazine: "Evaluating basketball talent is not too difficult. If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts."
“I didn’t say that. What I said was exactly that and continued on. What I said, the point I was trying to make, was that it is so scrutinized, the top 10 picks, the top 15, there are services over and over and if you’re a basketball fan you read these services. So, my point was, you can grab 10 guys and say, ‘Who are the top 10 picks?’ and they’ll have that information. Where it becomes incredible, and that’s where our scouts are incredible, is when we pick 29th, 30th, 28th. That’s where scouting comes in to play because really (the top 10) is set, it’s (the bottom 10) where you really have to know what you’re doing.
“So, it was a compliment to our scouts and whoever wrote that, I forgot who it was, it was just completely unfair because he stopped (the quote). He put those three dots and that means it still goes on. He chopped it off there to make me look stupid. My point was it’s so well covered, that the top 10-15 guys are pretty much picked and where your abilities shine are when you’re picking 28th year after year after year.”
Q: So it was taken out of context.
“Totally. But, I don’t know how to get rid of it. Even you’re bringing it up. It’s attached and ... you know. I tried to inform people of exactly how that was. It wasn’t misquoted. They just cut it off.”
Q: This goes along with you saying that you tried to inform people. You did choose to stay out of the spotlight for awhile. Why did you make that decision?
“To stay out of the spotlight? I’d say that’s my personality. I’m just not an attention-getter kind of guy. You know, ‘Look at me.’ I like to win championships and that’s basically my focus, keep us on top. We work very hard as a team, Mitch, myself my dad to keep us on top. As long as we’re winning and winning championships and playing well and all those kind of things, I don’t need to be credited for things. What happened was, basically because I wasn’t taking the credit, because I wasn’t out there, they started pinning the bad things on me and not the good things. So, I felt it was time to get out and let people know who I am.”
Q: Do you think that’s been a good decision so far?
“I think so. I think it’s been good overall.”
Q: Were you aware of the reputation that was starting to build? I guess when people don’t know, they start to attach things erroneously.
“Yeah, probably a mistake on my part not addressing it sooner. I think a red flag would have been the Rudy Tomjanovich (hiring). That was again decisions by the three of us and because of his health, he had to quit and it became I picked a guy who quit. I don’t follow that at all. So, that was probably a red flag if people don’t know me, they’re going to start attacking me that way. So, yeah, I probably should have came out a little bit earlier.”
Q: Let’s go to the future. You did say you could see Kobe winning titles Nos. 6, 7 and 8 with the team. Tell me and tell the fans and the readers why you guys are capable despite all the challenges. Your competition in Miami, Oklahoma City and Chicago is young and starting to hit their prime. You guys are getting a little older, even though you did get Sessions. You can’t just outspend the competition every year, like you’ve been able to do in the past ...
“We haven’t outspent the competition to win our championships. If you go back, we’re not the highest paid payroll.”
Q: That’s true, you weren’t the highest payroll, but you were top five...
“Well, yeah. So were the other teams when they won. If you want to correlate championships to payroll, you have to spend money to win championships. That’s not a question. But if you say you bought a championship, I would argue that. We also, if you look at our team, we’ve developed our team. In the old CBA it was 10.5 percent (raises year to year) and if you keep your team intact, you will spend more and more. Basically we were under the luxury tax when we started this team winning championships, and it grew because we kept our team. Not because we bought our players.
“That’s a big difference and it’s a sensitive subject when it comes to, ‘Oh, we just bought our way to this.’ No, we developed our way to it and it’s cost us money because we kept our team intact. You’ll see it in Oklahoma. Big time. Watch their payroll go from $48-52 million. They’ll be in the 70s or 80s if they keep their team intact. Especially if you win, you have that pressure.”
Q: But still, there are certainly challenges that exist and you stated your goal of championships No. 6, 7 and 8 for Kobe and I think everyone in L.A. would love to see it happen. How do you do it? You said you make smart decisions, obvious. But, how do you do it?
“We have a 25-year-old center, so I don’t think he’s old. I don’t look at Pau Gasol, the way he plays, as being ‘old,’ because he’s not a power player. He’s more of a finesse player. So, those kind of guys can last (for) who knows (how long). Kobe is just basically an incredible human being. I mean, you can’t slow the guy down. So, how do you put a number on his age? He should be old now. But he’s not. So, when I say 6,7,8, the reason I say that is because I don’t think we’re as old as people say we are. We just got a 25-year-old point guard and Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) is one of the top 10 players, top five players, defensively and he has a very big impact on games. You can see it. The offense will come back to him. He’s been an offensive player before. As long as his defense is intact, I’m extremely happy.
“Do I think we can win it this year? I think we really, really can. I’m very confident we have a big shot of winning this thing. To repeat? I don’t know what would stop us. Let’s win this one first, if we can. But to keep going, I think we’re OK.”
Q: How does Mike Brown fit in to that picture. I know he came to the precipice with Cleveland, losing in the Finals. Was that part of what attracted you to him? Was it his hunger to try to win a championship as well?
“I think he probably has a little chip on his shoulder to win one. He’s been there. He knows how the playoffs go. He’s been through rounds. He’s had superstars. He is very capable. You can hear that when he speaks.”
Q: Do you ever wonder or worry that the franchise has hit its peak?
“Oh my goodness. Hey, I chart stocks. I don’t know if I’ve ever charted us. The first response is, of course I don’t think we’ve hit our peak. I think we’ll continue. But, I don’t know if this is a peak and valley team. I don’t know if you can look at peaks and say that we’re peaking because we maintain pretty much a steady line. We might have blips of winning championships, but we don’t really fall off unless there is something that happens that we can’t control. I mean, how many times have we missed the playoffs? So, that would be a valley to me (laughing), know what I mean?
“ If I charted it like the stock market, I’d say that we have steady growth and that there are no peaks and valleys.”
Q: If you don’t win this year, could you envision drastic changes this offseason?
“To tell you the truth, I just focus on this year as far as our wins and losses and I don’t try to prepare based on if we win the whole thing or if we lose in the first round or not make the playoffs. Those are kneejerk reactions that we try not to do. We were more steady when we look ahead. It’s more like, we have Gasol for this many years, we have Bynum for this many years and we kind of focused in how the team is going to go. If we win a championship, I don’t think anything changes, if we lose, I don’t think hardly anything changes. We don’t do kneejerk things. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t see major changes if we lose.”
Q: Last summer Magic Johnson said, ‘This team needs to be blown up,’ obviously you hear that comment. Doesn’t mean you have to act on it and obviously you guys didn’t act on it. But, where do you think that comes from. Is that just concern for the franchise?
“From Magic’s point of view? I think he likes to light a fire under us to make sure that we’re focused on winning. I think he did that as a player. I think if a guy wasn’t paying attention, that ball would be fired at his head. I think Magic just likes to make sure that we win. My dad does the same thing, it’s just not publicized (laughing). They think alike.”
Q: I have a couple odds and ends I’d like to ask you about. Chaz Osborne, there’s been reports of his status with the team and I know on Lakers.com you refuted his background as a bartender. There’s just a lot of curiosity about Chaz. If you could indulge me and explain what his role is for the team and how he came to be a part of the Lakers’ franchise ...
“Let’s see. He became my assistant, I think 10 years ago. Maybe 11 years ago. He would travel with me on the road during my scouting trips and along the way, I started using him as a sounding board or ask his opinion on some things and I watched him develop into a very good scout. He doesn’t work for me anymore. He’s been a scout for probably three years now ... I’m not sure how many years. Time goes faster than I’d care (to admit). Before I blink an eye, it’s been five years. So, it might be five years that he’s been doing this (or) six and I can trust him because he was my assistant. It’s one of those things where people say you hired your friend, well, I’m friends with everybody. I’ll be your friend, too. I’m just a friendly guy. He was my assistant, I saw him (observe the game) and I said, ‘Why not give him a shot at scouting?’ So, he went on lots of scouting trips. Mitch has read his reports. (So have) Bill Bertka, Ronnie Lester and they’re all impressed with his reports on players. And he’s been very accurate and so, I said, OK, I’m moving on. I don’t need an assistant in that direction anymore, so, let’s try him as a scout.
“He’s a guy that I can trust and that’s important. So, where this all came from? I think there are some bitter people out there. I don’t know who. To call him a bartender that I just picked up, you know like, ‘Hey, come on, be a scout!’ It’s just foolish and misunderstood and is not a very knowledgeable person to report that kind of thing without checking on it. If you checked on it, you wouldn’t find any of that.”
Q: You mentioned on “Mason & Ireland” that with your relationship with Phil Jackson, you look at him as future brother in law ...
“(Laughing) I’m not trying to make him pop the question or anything like that, but I do view him as family. That’s where that all comes from.”
Q: Phil himself said during his exit interview with the media last season that he doesn’t really have a relationship with Jim Buss and he hasn’t spoken to him all season.
“My response to that is, my job is if there is a problem and Phil has a problem with a player or another coach or this or that then I step in and we have meetings. So, for me not to see him means that there were no problems and that’s the way that I conduct myself. I don’t know why he would say that he didn’t see me, because saw each other, let me count them ... seven times ... 15 times ... You don’t stop in the hall and say, ‘Let’s talk so that we can say that we talked.’
“He used to have lunches (in the Lakers meeting room) and I’d be in there having a lunch. I’m not sure why he said that. He’s very cryptic in his way of doing things, so maybe he just didn’t want to act like we have this tight relationship. You know, I don’t socialize with him unless my sister (Lakers executive vice president of business operations) is there and that kind of thing. It’s not like we go to the movies together. But no, I have no problems with Phil Jackson. I have a relationship that to me, it’s a relationship. He might not look at it that way.”
Q: To finish up, how would you describe being part of the family that owns the Lakers. Is it duty? Is it pride? What does it mean to your family to run the Lakers and have this thing that means so much to Los Angeles?
“It’s pride, for sure. This is just a tremendous ... I wouldn’t call it a job because it’s a life. I just am very prideful. I feel it’s something that I’ve been blessed with and I’m glad my dad has put me in this position. But, since we’ve owned them most of my life, it feels pretty normal. You know what I mean? Like, we’ve been doing this a long, long time.
“I’ve been in the offices since we bought The Forum, so coming into the office is not anything new. But, every year is fun. It’s a new challenge. But, I think pride is a good word.”