- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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The path forward was made clear to Jim and Jeanie Buss and all the Buss siblings a long time ago. Late Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss had laid out his vision for the future of the billion-dollar franchise to his children.
How it should be run, the ideals it must aspire to and, above all, the legacy they were being entrusted to honor.
Jim and Jeanie Buss were entrusted with the most power within the organization. They have known this would be their destiny for several years.
Now that the time has come, both seem to be searching for a new way of being in the absence of their father's decisive and often comforting words. It's not so much that they can't coexist, it's that neither quite knows how to exist without having their father to turn to and trust in at difficult moments.
Comments from Jim and Jeanie this month have made it clear how thoroughly they both relied on their father's counsel and wisdom, even in his final days. Neither made a significant decision without first consulting him. Neither made a big move that would even border on going against his wishes.
In conversations I had with Jim Buss earlier this month, I was struck by how deeply he not only respected his father's opinion but also relied on it. Several times over the past couple of seasons, Jim had the opportunity to assume greater power or to make decisions on his own. Each time, he went out of his way to involve his father and give him the final say.
"He'd say, 'Jim, you have the final hammer,'" Buss said. "I said, 'No, I don't. My final hammer is to say you are the final hammer.'"
When I asked if he was ready to assume that role now that his father was gone, it wasn't easy for him to answer.
"I get a sense from people that, 'We don't want to hear about you feeling bad [that your father] is gone and that you miss your connection with him. We need you to lead,'" he said. "I understand that, but I felt that people should basically get the feel that he's still making decisions."
Jeanie Buss has said she is wrestling with the same issue in a radio interview with ESPN LA in July and in excerpts from the updated version of her memoir, "Laker Girl," which have been released to the Los Angeles Times, ESPNLosAngeles.com and other media outlets.
"We maybe have to learn to do things differently because Dr. Buss isn't here anymore," Jeanie said in July, discussing the Lakers' use of billboards around town in an attempt to persuade Dwight Howard to remain with the team. "People said [of the billboards], 'Oh, that's not the Laker way.' Well, the Laker way isn't the same, because Dr. Buss isn't here."
In the updated version of her book, she writes that losing her father has made her feel like "my compass is broken" because "he was my inspiration and the source of my motivation for so much of my life."
She also writes in her book about her brother and the betrayal she felt in the way he handled the situation in November when the Lakers interviewed her fiancé, former coach Phil Jackson, and seemingly let him feel the head-coaching job was his to turn down only to hire Mike D'Antoni in a rushed manner before Jackson could give his answer. Jim Buss later said he had "compassion" for his sister and, "I wish I could do something about that. But on a business level, this was a business decision made by our father."
It was an emotional moment for the family and the franchise that spoke to the heart of a perceived disconnect between the two siblings and it grabbed headlines. But it was not what is most important to the Lakers' future.
The Buss siblings clearly need to work on their communication. Numerous times in the new chapters in her book, Jeanie Buss details instances in which she felt she was left out of the loop until the last minute on major decisions and moves that affected the franchise.
She writes about learning of the failed Chris Paul trade on Twitter, after she had stepped out of the NBA Board of Governors meeting in New York that finally ended the 2011 lockout, then observes of her fellow owners, "I believe that if we could have delayed the trade for 24 or 48 hours, perhaps their heads wouldn't have exploded. It was just that they felt no other teams had a fair chance to acquire Paul."
It's an intriguing thought. It's also an example of how Lakers history might have been different -- and perhaps better -- if she had been looped into the decision-making process behind the trade. Only she knew how the other owners were feeling about the Lakers and other big-market teams at that moment. Only she had been in that room with the 29 other owners and felt the tension between small- and large-market teams. But instead of being able to suggest that the Lakers and Hornets keep their blockbuster trade quiet for a few hours to let the dust settle on the new collective bargaining agreement, she was in a cab on the way to the airport wondering why her Twitter feed was blowing up.
This happened on her father's watch. It was a misjudgment on his part as well as on the part of Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak. While it's true that it would have been hard to anticipate that NBA commissioner David Stern (acting as the owner of the league-owned Hornets) would veto the deal, it also speaks to a larger issue, one that has grown in importance since Jerry Buss' death.
Jim and Jeanie didn't communicate because they trusted that their father knew best, that he would always make the right call. Given his track record, that was not only understandable but also wise. Even when things didn't turn out the way they might have hoped -- as was the case with the Paul trade -- there was still comfort in knowing Jerry Buss had made the final decision.
But that comfort is gone. Sister and brother have to make decisions without their father's input, trusting their instincts and hoping all they learned from him will be enough.
As anyone who has lost a parent knows, those steps are unsteady for a long time.
It helps, though, if you have someone to lean on. Perhaps, if they find a way to turn toward each other, they do.
16hMatt Walks, ESPN.com