Los Angeles Lakers: Jeanie Buss
Of course, the newly minted president of the New York Knicks was there to preside over the guys in orange and blue, not purple and gold.
It was quite the spectacle seeing Lakers president Jeanie Buss at the game sitting two rows from the court in Section 112, while her fiancÚ, Jackson, was way up in a skybox in Section 108. It provided a fairly symbolic representation of the 3,000 miles that will be between them as they lord over two of the league's marquee teams from opposite coasts. And the twists and turns of the NBA's most intriguing couple since Dennis Rodman and Madonna are sure to be talked about and picked over as every move their respective teams make in the future will be inevitably compared against one another.
But the best thing that could have happened to the Lakers on Tuesday did: Jackson didn't end up being the story.
For the first time in a long time, the Lakers played so well that the only thing there was to do was watch in awe. For all of the great teams the Lakers have ever fielded -- the 16 championship squads, the countless others that have gone deep into the playoffs -- none of them ever was as hot on offense for a single quarter of a game as this season's Lakers, already eliminated from postseason contention mind you, were in the third quarter Tuesday.
L.A. scored 51 points in the third, shooting 19-for-26 as a team overall (73.1 percent) and 6-for-9 on 3-pointers as it outscored New York by 20 and eclipsed the previous franchise record for points in a quarter, 49, that had stood for 42 years.
After the game, Nick Young, who made some more history by adding to his own franchise record already established this season by converting his sixth 4-point play, was asked about Jackson.
"Oh, I forgot about it," Young said. "Was he here tonight?"
Mark Willard and Dave McMenamin discuss the Lakers' leadership and championship prospects under Jim and Jeanie Buss in the latest edition of "The Forum."
And Jeanie Buss joins Willard and Mychal Thompson on ESPNLA 710. Full podcast
Jackson said Wednesday that he has had conversations with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak recently about the team and expects to have more moving forward.
Jackson was careful not get into specifics of his conversation with Kupchak about the Lakers, but Kupchak said he does talk to Jackson about basketball and the Lakers since Jackson is at the Lakers' facility often to see his fiance, Jeanie Buss, the Lakers' governor and executive vice president of business operations.
"He's over at the facility every now and then for obvious reasons," Kupchak said. "I'll see him then. We have reason to talk by phone every now and then. Obviously his accomplishments here, and relationship with Jeanie, create an environment that we're susceptible to dialogue with a basketball person like Phil. If he was working for another team, it wouldn't be the same."
Kupchak did not rule out the possibility of Jackson's having a more official role with the team moving forward after Jackson has passed up several opportunities with other teams.
"I'm not sure why somebody like Phil isn't working for an NBA club right now," Kupchak said. "He has so much to offer to any franchise. Even though he doesn't have an official role with us, he's a consultant of sorts. Jeanie, I'm sure, talks to him every night about basketball. It may not be official, but there is an existing relationship."
Jackson, Kupchak and Buss spoke at a Time Warner Cable media event in downtown Los Angeles honoring former Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died in February.
Jeanie Buss wanted Jackson to replace Mike Brown as the coach of the Lakers last season, but her brother, Jim, and Kupchak went with Mike D'Antoni instead. Despite not getting the head coaching job, Jeanie Buss says she wants everyone to know Jackson is still an integral part of the team.
"Phil is a part of the organization because of me," she said. "Really the best way to look at it is the night of the Shaq jersey retirement, and Phil spoke on behalf of the Lakers fans and team. I want Lakers fans to know he is part of it. He's part of my life and part of my family. He's always in the Laker world no matter if he has an official position or not."
1. Will the team be up for sale?
In a word, no. While the Lakers were purchased by Buss for $67.5 million in 1979 and now are estimated to be worth $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, the Buss family does not plan to test the market. "We unanimously agree that we have no intention of ever selling the Lakers and intend to keep ownership of the team in our family for generations to come,” the Buss family said in a statement in January. Lakers minority owner Patrick Soon-Shiong could look to own a larger part of the team even if the Buss family doesn’t intend to sell, however.
Soon-Shiong owns a small percentage of the team after buying out Magic Johnson’s stake in the Lakers a couple of years ago. With the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) -- which owns approximately 30 percent of the Lakers, along with Staples Center -- up for sale, Soon-Shiong could grow his share of the team tremendously. The billionaire already has been linked to the sale. Soon-Shiong’s representative, Chuck Kenworthy, told the L.A. Times in September 2012 that Soon-Shiong “is keenly aware that AEG is in play” and is “interested.”
2. Who makes the decisions?
In the past several seasons, the Lakers have relied on a three-headed decision-making team of Buss; his son, Jim Buss, who is the team’s vice president of player personnel; and Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers’ general manager. But Jerry Buss had the final say. “If there’s a decision to be made that’s important to the franchise -- a player movement -- he’s the final hammer,” Jim Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com in April. “I’ll have a recommendation, Mitch might have a different recommendation, and we’ll just let him decide.”
The Lakers' upper management will have to decide whether and how to diversify the decision-making process now that Buss’ 34-year run at the helm is over. For a long time, all of the decisions were made by a four-man crew that also included assistant GM Ronnie Lester, who worked for the Lakers for more than 25 years before being let go right before the lockout in 2011. The Lakers since have promoted Glenn Carraro to help fill Lester’s role, but this could be a time for the team to consider adding another smart basketball mind or two to the mix to help continue steering the franchise in the right direction.
3. How has Jim Buss prepared himself for this moment?
Apart from dealing with the pain of losing his father, Jim Buss will be challenged to replicate the success the Lakers have accomplished over the past 30 years. “It’s like watching your kid grow up,” Jim Buss said about taking on more responsibility. “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. 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.”
Jim Buss was able to live in relative anonymity during his five-year apprenticeship, but now the moves of the franchise will come under even more scrutiny from a Lakers fan base that had complete trust in the father but is still forming its opinion of the son.
4. Will the Lakers' power structure stay the way it is?
Jim Buss seemingly was groomed to take over the basketball side of things after Jerry Buss died, and Jeanie Buss has worked as the executive vice president of business operations for more than a decade. It appears that will remain the same going forward.
Questions remain, however. Now that Jeanie Buss is engaged to Phil Jackson, her longtime companion and former Lakers coach, could the most accomplished championship coach in NBA history enter the picture again once he is officially part of the family? The relationship between Jim and Jeanie has sometimes been tense, according to multiple sources. Now that their father is gone, will everyone be content with the roles they have assumed before, or are there new options to be explored?
5. Are the Lakers going to have the same commitment to winning as before?
This is a big question for Lakers fans. Buss seemingly had the same mentality that they did, saying at his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2010: "There were times when I was in the locker room and I would be surrounded by five Hall of Famers. As a fan, you can't imagine how that feels." All fans want for their favorite teams are more titles, regardless of luxury-tax implications. Buss approached it the same way, always investing in his team rather than being satisfied with the revenue it generated for him.
"We are spending way too much money," Buss said with a chuckle in the summer before the 2010-11 season. "It's tough. You sit there and you say, 'We really can't afford this, we can't afford this and we can't afford this,' and then somehow the next day we end up spending some more money and getting another player and signing a new extension, etc., etc."
With the new collective bargaining agreement threatening punitive luxury-tax penalties and dipping into big-market team’s pockets through substantial revenue sharing, will the Lakers still operate under a “whatever it takes” credo?
6. How will this affect the Lakers players this season?
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace are the only members of the current team who were on the Lakers’ most recent championship squad in 2010. "He means everything to me," Bryant recently told USA Today. "He took a chance on a 17-year-old kid coming out of Philadelphia when nobody really saw that potential. He believed in me the entire way."
Could the loss of Buss be a rallying cry for the 25-29 Lakers in the final 28 games of the season, led by the memories of Bryant, Gasol and World Peace? Could the loss of Buss be something that spurs the Lakers back to dig deeper in pursuit of a return to glory?
Buss, 78, wants the Lakers and all of the purple-and-gold tradition to stay his family’s business long after he’s gone -- despite speculation to the contrary.
The Buss family and Lakers organization issued a joint statement to ESPNLosAngeles.com on Friday before the team played the Utah Jazz, in response to a recent story in the Orange County Register that floated the idea the team could be up for sale.
"We unanimously agree that we have no intention of ever selling the Lakers and intend to keep ownership of the team in our family for generations to come,” said the statement.
Dr. Buss has six children, including two who currently hold influential roles within the organization. His son, Jim Buss, is the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel and his daughter, Jeanie Buss, is the team's executive vice president of business operations.
The Lakers were recently listed by Forbes Magazine as the second-most-valuable team in the NBA at $1 billion, trailing only the New York Knicks.
JEANIE BUSS (CLICK HERE TO HERE THE INTERVIEW)
- People have wondered why Jeanie hasn't attended as many games at Staples Center this season. It's because she's taking the opportunity to watch then with her main squeeze Phil Jackson, who's also recovering from knee replacement surgery. "He's doing really well," raves Jeanie. "I honestly think he's two inches taller, because his knee was so painful, it was kind of bow-legged, and now he looks great and he's feeling good.
- Is PJ feeling good enough to coach, and specifically for the Knicks as rumored? Jeanie says it's not worth discussing the Knicks because they have a coach (Mike Woodson), and nobody from New York or any other team has made an offer to begin with. Either way, if PJ comes out of retirement, it'll be because he wants to, rather than money.
- Jeanie is fine with the new CBA's goal of leveling the playing field between bigger and smaller market yeams. However, it's impossible to "revenue share" what the Lakers have in prestige and fans, so in that sense, they'll always have an ace in the hole.
- Phil still follows the NBA pretty regularly and in particular keeps tabs on all of his former players. (Even Vlad Rad!!!) He also hasn't made a prediction as to who will win it all, but thinks OKC-Dal is the most interesting first round matchup.
JIM BUSS (CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW):
- Dr. Jerry Buss is feeling healthier by the day. In fact, he's about 80-90 percent back, by his son's estimation.
- Like many Lakers fans, he couldn't believe Mike Brown had the huevos to keep Jordan Hill on the floor down the stretch of the double OT win over OKC last Sunday. "I was saying, ‘Get Bynum in there! Get Bynum in there!," recalls Jim. "But we kept playing well and of course Jordan Hill had just a tremendous game, so, as usual I’m wrong and he was right and we won the game."
- Also like many Lakers fans, he places some of the blame on the Metta World Peace-James Harden altercation on the Thunder sixth man. But he also thought the seven-game suspension itself was a fair punishment.
"I know Metta and I know how hard he’s trying," says Jim. "If it was two other players and there was no history, which of course you have to take into consideration, but if there was no history I thought it looked like Harden came into him a little bit, maybe instigated something. Of course the blow as tremendous and awful and doesn’t belong in this game, so I think seven is just absolutely the perfect number … Any less I think it discounts it, any more I think it’s excessive."
The 27-year old USC grad is in his fourth year running the minor league squad. Where Jim worked his way up through the Lakers organizational structure as part of the player personnel division, Joey is getting a more holistic education with the D-Fenders. A few weeks back, we sat down with him for an extended interview.
Dr. Buss let his son sink or swim in Orlando.
Joey Buss: When I graduated college, the first year I spent with the Lakers and Phil Jackson, shadowing him for the year. Traveled to all the away games, went to all the coach’s meetings. That was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, just getting in there. We also invested in the D-League as the first NBA team to buy its own affiliate at around the same time. I was trying to learn different roles, and different parts of the organization to see where a good fit would be.
As I talked with my sister Jeanie and my dad it seemed that the minor league sport was an open opportunity to take on, and invest my time into fully to try and build it as an asset for the Lakers. From the business part, from the basketball part, just managing the whole deal. Go out there and do it. This is your team, go do it.
Q: What did you learn in that year shadowing Phil?
Joey Buss: Candidly, I learned it’s very hard work. I learned all about the triangle offense, and the inner workings of how Phil likes to manage games. Coming from college you’re kind of outside looking in. This was an inside, behind the scenes look. Growing up with the team, it was more just about the players, meeting guys. That’s all I really cared about. What this really taught me was the strategy of the game. Getting that coaching insight was very valuable basketball knowledge.
You really quickly start realizing that it’s not as easy to say it as it is to do it. Their point guard scored a lot, why couldn’t we do something about? But then the coaches, you [see they] tried everything you possibly could. You did this substitution, you did the zone, you tried this different on the pick and roll, you tried different avenues. You really get to see that they try everything. They don’t not think of anything. And really having a realization of how difficult it is for these guys to maintain an energy level through a whole season.
All that and more! Here's the link to the transcript.
Also, we're still taking suggestions to rename "The Triangle." The only catch? "Lakers" can't appear anywhere in the title. That aside, we're pretty wide open, so leave some ideas in the comments section, or Tweet us.
Her life is already a series of fast forwards, as I envision her personality, various milestones and interests, along with her future in this uncertain world. But there is an oasis providing confidence about the days ahead: the Los Angeles Lakers.
I was lucky to find a wife who's also a sports fan. It's nice being able to sit on the couch with your significant other, a football game, and the knowledge both people truly appreciate what's on T.V. We'd never force our children to share our interests, but the idea of them enjoying sports doesn't feel like a stretch.
Still, sports creates natural alliances requiring my wife and I to not only tolerate certain preferences, but to already draw lines in the sand involving our kids.
For example, my wife is a Dodgers fan. I grew up a Cardinals fan, but asking my kids to root for a team in St. Louis when we live 20 minutes from Chavez Ravine is ridiculous. Thus, they'll be raised in Dodger blue. For college football, they'll back the Trojans like their old man. The NFL means supporting the Cowboys like Mom and her entire lineage, with zero talk of a Plan B unless L.A. gets a team that wasn't originally an NFC East member, giving the kids at least the option of rooting for a hometown team. (Unless it's the Raiders moving back to L.A., in which case, they'll be Cowboys fans.)
As for the NBA, my wife grew up a Spurs loyalist, but knows a losing battle when she sees one. Our children will bleed purple and gold. Period. End of story.
But this isn't simply a extension of the rooting interests I've never tried to hide while covering the Lakers. It's the proactive act of parenting. As a child and a fanatic of Bill Bidwell's Cardinals (before they moved to Arizona), I was given a harsh lesson about bad front offices and ownership. I want to shield my children from that same torture, so rooting for the Lakers feels like a wise move.
Take the other teams destined to be part of my kids' lives. An army of soap opera scribes couldn't have created the "ESPN meets Access Hollywood meets Divorce Court" train wreck that is the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership saga. I get a good vibe from Pat Haden, but a non-existent track record makes it impossible to automatically trust him to steer USC through tough times. My wife may be eternally indebted to Jerry Jones for the Aikman-Emmitt-Irvin dynasty, but is nonetheless convinced he's as big a reason for recent struggles as Wade, T.O. or Romo.
On the flip side, the Lakers have won 10 titles, made 15 trips to the Finals, and missed the postseason just twice since 1980, Dr. Buss' first season as owner. They're built for championships over the next few seasons, with Andrew Bynum a potential centerpiece for the next wave of greatness. Should Drew not pan out, however, it is easy to believe a quality alternative will be discovered. After a few bricks (Kwame Brown, Vlad Radmanovic, Aaron McKie, etc.), Mitch Kupchak is on a path to potentially go down as Jerry West's equal. Jim Buss initially came off as a dude whose only qualifications to own a team were blood lines, but the rough patches and public squabbles with sister Jeanie are now ancient history. Those at the top know what they're doing, the money is secure, and I feel confident declaring this franchise in good hands.
There are so few certainties in life, much less what you can predict way down the road. At the end of the day, it's all a big crap shoot. But aligning oneself with the Lakers is about as risk-free as any decision gets.
For most people, even the lucky ones, life features its share of letdowns. That's just reality, and impossible to avoid. But even knowing human beings generally persevere, the desire to protect my daughter from a harsh world is already palpable. By steering her toward the Lakers, I can sleep easy knowing the odds for eventual disillusionment in one aspect of her life are remarkably low.
For that, I -- along with every Lakers fan worldwide -- should give thanks on this holiday.
A week later, another author graces our studio. This time, it's NBA senior director of photos Andy Bernstein, whose new book "Journey to the Ring: Behind the Scenes with the 2010 NBA Champion Lakers" hits stands on Wednesday. It's a stunning photo journal of the 2010 season, featuring thoughtful captions by Jeanie's "Boobah," Phil Jackson. The pictures take fans way behind the scenes of the 2010 title defense, with access off-limits to most members of the media (including a certain pair of bloggers).
|Lakers photographer Andy Bernstein talks about his years of experience covering the Lakers and his new book (with lots of great pictures) "Journey to the Ring."
Bernstein dropped by ESPNLA On Air this weekend to talk about the book, which I rightly described as the ultimate coffee table book for any Lakers fan. Bernstein talked about the process of chronicling an entire season, earning a team's trust and what constitutes great sports photography.
There's a terrific shot in the book of Kobe Bryant in Madison Square Garden's visiting locker room. Positioned like Rodin's "The Thinker," he's sitting before a game with his ankles submerged in a giant cooler of ice water. His problematic index finger? Bathing in a coffee cup filled with ice. The intensity in his face and body language leaps off the page. Bernstein described to us the process of capturing such a moment, along with his admiration for Bryant:
"That's a moment I have to be very, very discreet with. He's obviously in a very pensive moment, thinking about the game coming up. This is about two hours before game time in Madison Square Garden. He's trying to get a little private time in a very small locker room. It's the kind of thing where I see it out of the corner of my eye, I turn, maybe snap two shots of it, praying that he doesn't hear the shudder going off. Of course, I'm not using a flash.
"This picture says so much about Kobe, about how he was battling injuries at that time. It was the middle of the season. He's trying to make it back. They're on a long road trip. They had just lost [one] game on the road trip, if you remember. They have, like, four more, five more games in front of them. And he's hurting. He really is trying to get himself together mentally and physically.
"I just love that picture."
(FYI, we collaborated with Andy last season on a project where players commented on photos of themselves during the 2009 title run. For those who didn't see it, take a gander now. The shots and player commentary are pretty awesome.)
UPDATE: Henry Abbott at TrueHoop digs into the book as well, pulling out some of Phil Jackson's wisdom.
|Andy and Brian welcome Lakers Executive Vice President Jeanie Buss for an extended conversation about her new book, "Laker Girl," her history in the NBA, Phil Jackson's future (and pet name), and much more.
That said, she'd prefer the "take" option be exercised. Aside from the natural desire to move product, Phil's collaboration with Andy Bernstein, "Journey to the Ring," is about to hit stores, and match his sales would be fun, especially after her beau finished his work in three weeks while she slaved away for months.( Let's be honest, though. Phil's book is photo-driven, so Andy did all the heavy lifting.)
" Letting strangers into your life is an exercise in vulnerability, but Jeanie deemed nothing in her personal life off limits. "I didn't hold anything back... When you try to hide things, that kind of stuff messes with your mind." Still, that doesn't mean everyone was initially comfortable with the curtain being drawn back.
"Phil did not like the idea of me doing this book," admitted Buss. "He felt vulnerable in a way he couldn't control." Thankfully, the finished product prompted a sigh of relief, along with a pat on the back. According to Jeanie, Phil "loved" the book.
The implication was clear: If the organization screws around to much with negotiations, almost certainly over financial issues in one form or another, Jackson would take his clipboard to a new locale.
Tuesday, before the Lakers knocked off Utah in Game 2, Jackson diffused such talk. He didn't guarantee a return, but as Shelburne reports, PJ made it pretty clear if he coached, it would be in L.A. "I'd say it's 90 percent if that if I'm coaching it'll be here."
Given how little time he realistically has left on the sidelines, the idea Jackson would move to a different job with a lesser team seemed more than a little odd. Certainly I'm not the only one who thought so. But the sentiment behind Jeanie's threat regarding a fair salary seem more relevant. Certainly the conversations about his future have grown more common. I've heard all sorts of scenarios, anecdotally and with nobody directly connected to the team, ranging from "it'll all work out in the end" to "they'll only make him an offer if the Lakers repeat" to the idea they're looking for any reason to avoid paying Jackson altogether.
Realizing it's not my money at stake here, the idea the Lakers would go Maybach on salary obligations for the roster but settle for a Buick head coach seems antithetical to how Dr. Buss typically does business. If Jackson is squeezed out, who is available representing an upgrade, or even an even swap? Byron Scott? I don't think so. Brian Shaw? He has all the tools to be an elite coach, but next season? In two? The Lakers have a fairly narrow window to work with. Three years, give or take, of very realistic possibilities assuming guys stay reasonably healthy. Why burn some of that on an adjustment period for a new coach? Especially when one could be sucked up by a lockout? Unless they think Jackson has diminished to the point there's no longer a discernible difference, or at least not a $5-7 million dollar difference, between PJ and the next best guy (I would disagree).
It's fairly fascinating stuff.
In the end, I think the Lakers will do well enough this season to almost guarantee a suitable contract offer for Jackson. Maybe not $12 million, but not a Joe Torre-in-New York-offer he can't do anything but refuse. But that's just my opinion. Am I being overly optimistic, underselling the sorts of dynamics forcing Jackson out earlier in the decade? What say you?
"I know Phil will be coaching next year, somewhere. Whether it's here or someplace else I don't know. There's going to be a lot of good jobs that come up this summer."
Can these fellas shake hands on a salary?
Everything from family divides over Jackson's performance to money (PJ currently makes $12 million) has been bandied about as a possible cause for defection. Jeanie disputed the former issue to Brian and me on our PodKast, but took a considerably different tact with the latter while talking with Shelburne. No bones were made about this being a point of contention:
"Plus, my dad has made it very clear he doesn't want to pay him what he's been paying him. So that's kind of hard, too. You could kind of say, in some jobs, well, I'm cutting back your hours. But can you see him cutting back his hours?"
And therein lies what I consider a pretty interesting rub.