- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- When the Los Angeles Lakers struggled early this season and failed to make a blockbuster trade, much of the criticism was directed toward Jim Buss, the team's executive vice president of player personnel who is being groomed to replace his father, Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
Jim Buss was given more of the reigns of the team last year and was blamed for the Lakers cutting ties with Phil Jackson in the offseason and his entire staff and hiring Mike Brown as coach.
The last time the Lakers went through such an organizational upheaval six years ago, Jim Buss was again a lightning rod for criticism, and Kobe Bryant demanded a trade.
This time, Bryant seems more content with Buss and the direction of the team.
"We have a good relationship," Bryant told the "Mason & Ireland Show" on 710 ESPN on Thursday when asked about Jim Buss. "People misunderstand that relationship. We have a good time. We've had dinner together and things like that. He's a great guy and he wants to do the right thing and he wants to help us win a championship. The biggest thing, which was the same with his father, who he has learned from, is that he's not going to make rushed decisions. He's going to be patient and he's going to take his time.
"The one thing I will say about him and about the Lakers' organization is that it's one of those franchises that always seems to land on its feet. Always seems to make the right choices. Always seems to make the right decisions, even the tough ones."
The Lakers were close to acquiring Chris Paul in the offseason for a package that included Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. But the NBA vetoed the trade at the last minute; Paul was instead sent to the Los Angeles Clippers. The team also was reportedly pursuing Dwight Howard before he opted to remain with the Orlando Magic for one more season. In the end, the Lakers were able to acquire Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Luke Walton and Jason Kapono and sent Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets for Jordan Hill.
Despite a roster upheaval that leaves the Lakers with only four players from their last championship team in 2010, Bryant still believes the Lakers can win a championship this season.
"We are a championship-caliber team," Bryant said. "I've never understood the talk about us not being a contender. I've never understood it from the start of the season until now. You have myself, you have Andrew (Bynum) and you have Pau. Who has three players like that on one roster? And then you have Metta (World Peace) and you have (Matt) Barnes.
"So I hear all this talk and all these conversations and here we are two games out of the second seed in the Western Conference despite our struggles on the road and with the new coaching staff and the new system and new personnel. I always believed we were contenders but we just had to be quiet about it."
34mEthan Sherwood Strauss
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com