Commentary

Lakers mess is Jim Buss' mess

Team is in the hands of the iconic owner's son, and that's probably not a good thing

Updated: December 16, 2011, 9:44 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNLosAngeles.com

In a perfect world, we snatch the inept among us, shove them aside and move forward with the indelible, emphatic message that better times, indeed, are on the horizon. But the Los Angeles Lakers are far from perfect these days, primarily because of Jim Buss. Because he's not about to go anywhere, neither are the Lakers. That's not meant in a good way. In fact, it's the worst possible news imaginable.

How are you feeling today, Kobe Bryant? Have you finished being nauseated? Now that the Los Angeles Clippers have acquired sensational point guard Chris Paul, pairing him with Blake Griffin and supplementary parts every bit as formidable as their supposed big brothers, we all know there will still be showtime at the Staples Center. We're just not expecting it from the boys in purple and gold.

[+] EnlargeJim Buss
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesIn trying to claim the future, Jim Buss and the Lakers may have hurt the present.
The Lakers, who finished 57-25 last season, still may be the best team in L.A., but chances are that's not about to last for long. For those who believe they'll still be the show across from L.A. Live, perhaps you should have your eyes checked.

At the moment, the Clippers (32-50 last season) have a better point guard, a better small forward, a better power forward and a better executive calling the shots. Yes, as pathetic as Donald Sterling has been, at least he hasn't been foolish enough to alienate Griffin, previously the only star player on his squad. Griffin is all smiles over the actions Sterling has approved with his wallet, while Buss may very well have infuriated Bryant beyond comprehension on the eve of the 2011-12 season fresh off a contentious 5½-month lockout.

"It's good to see [the Clippers] being that aggressive and wanting to make the next step," Bryant said, predictably far more enraged than his feigned diplomacy would indicate. "They got Blake, who I think the world of, and CP, who I like as well. So I think it's good for L.A. to have two teams that are competitive."

That's true only if the present-day Lakers are indeed the Lakers of old. At the moment, we all know that is not the case and that it's not about to be in the near future, unless the Lakers end up getting Dwight Howard.

This is not about whether the Clippers are better than the Lakers right now, because they are not. The Clips don't have a five-time world champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, a former league MVP, a 13-time All-Star and a two-time scoring champion all rolled up into one person on their roster. Nor do they have two 7-footers who are two-time champions playing for a franchise rife with tradition and known allergies to mediocrity.

However, the Clippers also don't have someone who probably will demand to be traded despite the reality that there's almost no way his contract can be moved.

In Paul, the Clippers have a floor leader the Lakers don't have. They also have a sidekick in Chauncey Billups who's a champion in his own right, not to mention one of the best leaders in the NBA today. In Griffin they also have a box-office attraction who rivals Kobe, and athletes in DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler (if healthy), a combination of youth and athleticism the Lakers can't match. Most of all, they're devoid of drama.

Please understand that any hostility over the Lakers' latest moves and nonmoves need not be pointed in the direction of GM Mitch Kupchak. The man groomed by the great Jerry West is simply too smart to initiate some of the recent decisions.

It is Buss who's anxious to eradicate any semblance of the Phil Jackson era just to cement his own imprints. It is Buss who refused to trade Andrew Bynum so the Lakers could have Carmelo Anthony with Kobe and Pau Gasol right now.

It is also Buss who hired Mike Brown without consulting Kobe first, dismissing his star's desire to have former assistant coach Brian Shaw at the helm. And after all that, it was Buss who, according to league sources, turned around and infuriated league owners by attempting to manipulate things behind the scenes in an attempt to get Howard with Paul -- before trading Lamar Odom for nothing but a pick and an $8.9 million trade exception after Odom, upset over the initial deal with New Orleans, asked to be traded.

Buss did this, mind you, with no regard for his present crop of players, all with limited time left in their careers.

"Nobody can blame Buss and the Lakers for thinking about their future," one Eastern Conference executive told me. "We get it. But what you want to avoid doing is alienating the players you need now. You need Kobe now. You need Gasol now. And as badly as you need them, you have to know they need some help. The beating they took from Dallas in the playoffs last season should've told you that.

"So to lose out on Paul is bad enough. To give away Odom is even worse. But to do all those things and [you] still don't have Howard, you've actually diminished your roster and created drama all at the same time. That's just not good if you're the Lakers."

No, it is not.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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