There’s always got to be a scapegoat when the Lakers lose – over the years, the blame’s gone from being aimed at Shaquille O’Neal, to Kobe Bryant, to Pau Gasol, to Mike Brown, to Pau Gasol, to Mike D’Antoni, to Pau Gasol and so on.
We first saw him garner hate when “he” hired Mike Brown over Brian Shaw when Phil Jackson retired. “What’s Jim thinking?!” most fans were saying, “Shaw should’ve got the job!”
Whether or not Brian Shaw is capable of being a head coach in the NBA is still unknown, but what we do know is that it wasn’t just Jim Buss who hired Brown: it was his father, Jerry, and general manager Mitch Kupchak, too. It was a joint decision.
Some wanted Shaw so they can hang onto “the good old days” of Phil Jackson and the Triangle. The Lakers still had Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant at this point, so why not carry on their winning ways in the Triangle?
The truth was this: Shaw was unproven as a head coach and the Lakers wanted to go in a different direction: again, this decision was made by Jim, Jerry and Mitch.
They had other plans in mind, such as moving Triangle-friendly players Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in a deal for Chris Paul. They managed to agree to a trade, only to see David Stern veto it and send the Lakers into a downward spiral.
But, let’s pause quickly – the Lakers (and yes, Jim Buss) – made a move for Chris Paul. They didn’t want to sit back and go into the next season after getting swept with the same team. That was a big time move.
Of course, the aftermath is still lingering with us now; Gasol has never been the same, but his decline can be tracked all the way back to those 2011 playoffs, when Phil was so embarrassingly sent packing to his retirement home in Montana.
At his request, the Lakers ended up moving Lamar Odom to Dallas after the trade for Paul didn’t go down. Many viewed this as a “salary dump” at the time and said “Jim Buss wants to save money”.
The trade ended up working out well for the Lakers: Odom had the worst season of his career and the Lakers used the $8.9 million trade exception they created in the Odom deal to sign-and-trade for Steve Nash in the summer.
As the Lakers struggled to find a groove during the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, they again looked to make changes. They pulled off a couple of trade deadline day deals, notably brining in Ramon Sessions from Cleveland and Jordan Hill from Houston, both of whom played well for the squad.
With Sessions, the Lakers finally thought they had began to steer the ship in the right direction again. Longtime Laker fan Jack Nicholson even told Sessions after a game that he was, “the missing piece”.
Fans were loving the play by Sessions. They were praising Jim Buss. They were saying they were wrong about him. Then, after having major bright spots in the regular season, Sessions went a laid an egg in the playoffs – his first ever appearance there. Was that Jim Buss’ fault, too?
Also, it should be noted that Jordan Hill ended up being a solid role player heading into the playoffs and he was re-signed in the summer. He was a definite steal.
After losing in the second round of the playoffs again – but with two more wins this time – we headed into the off-season expecting some changes to be made, but we weren’t sure what they’d be. Sessions opted out of his contract and we assumed he’d be resigned.
Then, on July 4th, the Lakers fan base was shook by the news of Steve Nash agreeing to join the team. Nash came to Los Angeles and signed a three-year, $27 million contract – so much for saving money, huh?
Who made the push to go after Nash? None other than Jim Buss. He told Mitch Kupchak to give it a go, no matter how much of a long shot it seemed. It paid off, thanks to Jim.
Then, in August, the Lakers made a move for Dwight Howard by sending Andrew Bynum out of town. Yes, that Andrew Bynum. The guy who Jim drafted at 17 years of age and watched grow into an All-Star center. The guy who everyone said he’d never part with. Well, he did, and D12 ended up in Los Angeles after a painstakingly long trade negotiation period.
Other moves made in the 2012 off-season included signing former All-Star Antawn Jamison and sharpshooter Jodie Meeks. They also brought in Eddie Jordan to run the Princeton offense – that wasn’t just Mike Brown’s idea, by the way, it was one shared by Kobe too, who had run the Princeton during his teenage years and thought it would be a good idea to implement it in Los Angeles.
This all but set up the Lakers to have the best record in the league and win the championship; that was the general consensus, anyway.
Analysts, fans and players alike all pretty much thought this Lakers team was set to contend. Jim Buss had done his job; he’d arrived. It almost looked like he’d assembled a Dream Team on paper.
Then the losses came.
Winless through eight games in the pre-season. 1-4 in the regular season. That was the end of the line for Mike Brown: the fans had been calling for him to be fired and the Lakers responded. Brown was gone – despite the Lakers having to pay him over $10 million in guaranteed salary – and the search for a new coach was on.
It looked like Phil Jackson was going to end up as the new head coach. It looked like the Triangle would be back in town. Then, late on a Sunday night in November, Phil was told the team would be hiring Mike D’Antoni instead.[Edit: it was later revealed that Jerry Buss had called for D'Antoni's hiring, seeing as Nash and Dwight - on paper - were perfectly matched for a D'Antoni-like offense.]
Why did the Lakers pass on Jackson? For starters, he apparently was asking for too much in terms of contractual stipulations: only traveling to select away games and having more personnel control were some of the demands he was apparently coming up with.
The other problem the Lakers had to consider was bringing in the Triangle offense mid-season. They’d already seen what the Princeton had done to the team – not only were they losing, but Nash was almost defunct, running within a system instead of running the system – and learning such a complicated offense on the fly would only lead to more problems.
If you’re paying Steve Nash $27 million, you have to use him. That’s part of the reason why D’Antoni was brought in.
Overall, the Lakers are doing fine right now on the offensive end; it’s the defensive end where they’re struggling. It’s the hustle-aspect that they’re lacking in. They just haven’t got the legs.
Kobe said it best: “we’re old as s—”.
Phil Jackson wouldn’t cure that problem. Sure, he could get them to meditate and help them find their inner-peace, but he couldn’t turn the clock back and give them younger legs. That’s why I feel like this Lakers team would be struggling right now even if they had Phil back on the sidelines. Bringing in Jackson wouldn’t magically make everything right.
The cold hard fact is that the Lakers need to make a trade and the only real trade chip they have is Pau Gasol. They need to move Pau for pieces who can help add depth and – more importantly – defense to this squad.
Of course, there’s any number of potential deals out there, but one team who have been interested in Gasol for a while is the Minnesota Timberwolves. I looked at a possible deal the other day, built around Andrei Kirilenko and Derrick Williams.
I gave my reasons for making such a trade in the article, but in short, here’s the reason I want AK47: he’s long, quick and can do it all.
He may be 31, but he doesn’t move like it. He can guard small forwards with his quickness and disrupt power forwards with his length. He’s a good 6’9″ and his huge wingspan allows him to guard the taller players and also get in the passing lanes. Speaking of passing, he’s pretty inept at that, and his playmaking ability would help fill the void Pau would leave. And, as a power forward, he can stretch the floor with his shooting ability.
However, this article wasn’t meant to be about specific trades, it was to come to the defense of Jim Buss – and Mike D’Antoni for that matter – who have received a lot of unwarranted criticism.
Pretty much everyone thought this team was ready to contend. You can’t ask for a better off-season on paper than the Lakers had in 2012. But, of course, a title isn’t won on paper.
The roster needs changes, pure and simple, and I have no doubt in my mind that those changes will be coming.
And when those changes do come, remember that Jerry, Mitch and Jim are trying to right the ship in Los Angeles. Just like you, they don’t want to lose. They’re not afraid to spend money to win. Throw those myths out of the window right now.
Get behind the team. From the guys on the court to the guys in the front office. If they’re going to get anywhere near the NBA Finals this year, they’re going to need all the support they can get.