Lakers scion/executive vice president of Player Personnel Jim Buss, continuing a concerted (and badly needed) effort to make himself more accessible to the Lakers-loving public, answered questions for T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times Tuesday.
They covered a fair amount of ground, from Mike Brown to Magic Johnson to Phil Jackson's interview with HBO. But this exchange on the scale of the team's plans in heading into the summer will certainly raise an eyebrow or two and merits a little parsing:
"What are the chances of the Lakers starting the season with [Kobe] Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol all in Lakers uniforms?
"Very good," says Buss.
So you don't agree with those who say the Lakers must turn Gasol into two or three players via a trade?
"No," he says. "I think changes are going to be made moving Pau lower to the basket. We can improve that way with a change in coaching strategy rather than a change in personnel."
"We will try to sign [Ramon] Sessions when the rules allow beginning in July," he says. "And improve the bench."
No major free-agent signings, no blockbuster trades?
"No," he says."
Buss goes on to say "From what I'm hearing Kobe [Bryant] is pretty satisfied with this team ... I'm hearing he believes this team kept together can do something."
Following consecutive second round exits, the expectation this offseason is for change, potentially substantial. Buss undercuts that notion, promoting instead what a strategy of bolstering the margins and working with the Bryant/Bynum/Gasol core. If such talk makes you nervous, and judging by the questions queued up in today's chat it might, don't let it. The front office consistently said exactly this sort of thing last season up to the moment they tried to blow up the core in the failed Chris Paul deal.
Early summer in the NBA isn't exactly harvest season for candor.
Mitch Kupchak made it pretty clear at his exit interview the Lakers will explore all their options. That hasn't changed, but Buss has little alternative but to say publicly exactly what he did. Announcing Pacino-style plans to take a flamethrower to this place isn't exactly savvy. A) it undercuts their position in a trade, and B) becomes a major problem in the fall should the right deal not arrive and the Lakers do, in fact, return last year's Big Three intact. (In that sense, when Buss says there's a very good chance Kobe opens next season flaked by Gasol and Bynum, he's not telling tales. Blockbuster deals are hard to pull off, and there's no guarantee the Lakers will find one they're comfortable with.)
The more interesting nuggets in the excerpt above are a little quieter. First, Buss expresses a desire to bring Sessions back. Here, for reasons expressed yesterday when Sessions opted for free agency, I completely believe him. Second, he said the Lakers would like to trade into the first round of next week's NBA draft. How I'm not sure, but I'm sure plenty of scenarios will land in our inbox. Third, in the context of Gasol's role Buss talks about altering Mike Brown's coaching strategies. Of course, Pau might not be around next year, but it's less important to whom Buss refers than the idea he'd say it at all.
The front office remains supportive of Brown, but comments like those suggest going forward they'll more actively seek change on the floor when they feel it necessary.
But those are secondary questions to the one about the fundamental composition of the 2012-13 roster. Regarding that, nothing Buss said to the L.A. Times should lead you to believe the Lakers purposefully plan to stand pat. The man behind the curtain can't say it out loud, but if the core of next season's roster looks the same as this year's, it almost certainly won't be by design.