The Los Angeles Lakers have had a fantastic offseason so far. The front office, led by co-owner and president of basketball operations Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak, could not have dreamed up a better scenario for how things have gone since Kobe Bryant’s magical farewell performance on April 13. After firing Byron Scott on April 24th, Buss and Kupchak landed their top choice for his replacement soon after in former Lakers player and current Warriors assistant Luke Walton. Walton in turn convinced Bryan Shaw, his first choice for lead assistant coach, to join him on the Lakers’ bench next season.
As if that wasn’t enough to lift fans’ spirits after the worst season in Lakers franchise history, L.A. also landed the second overall pick in the NBA Draft lottery for the second straight year. That ensures that they’ll be able to select either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, the undisputed top prospects in this year’s draft class. The Lakers also have the most salary cap space out of any NBA team, and that’s just one of the advantages they’ll take into free agency this summer.
Despite the nearly perfect way things have gone in La La land for the past month and a half, a cloud still hung over Buss and Kupchak. That cloud is the self-imposed deadline Buss publicly imposed on himself soon after he took over the Lakers’ basketball operations from his late father Jerry: If the Lakers weren’t competing by the 2016-17 season, he would step down and turn the reins over to his sister, co-owner Jeannie Buss. Nearly every time Jeanie has spoken to the press since then, she has referred to that deadline and stated that she would hold her brother to it. That has helped fuel rumors that she desperately wants to bring her fiancé, legendary Lakers coach Phil Jackson, back to Los Angeles as soon as possible. Jackson currently runs the New York Knicks’ front office, but reportedly would love to use the opt-out in his contract with the Knicks next year to rejoin the purple and gold.
In speaking with ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne on Shelburne’s ESPN Radio show this morning, however, Jeanie Buss did her best to diffuse those rumors and reassure fans that she has confidence in her brother and Kupchak:
“No, (Phil’s not coming back to L.A.). To visit, yes..but in terms of basketball, he’s committed to New York for many years. He’s building something there. He has a mission, he’s on that journey to get the team back to where he believes it can be and it will be. He’s a former Knick…he loves New York, he loves the fans, he wants to make them proud. In terms of the Lakers, we have a front office. They’re putting together a team…they have a vision. I’m excited to see what the future holds for us. So, to answer your question….no, there’s no plans for Phil to come back here.”
It’s a welcome change of tone for Jeannie, who seems to have become much more supportive of the current Lakers regime. What criteria, if any, the Lakers would have to meet next season in order for Jim and Mitch to keep their jobs is unclear, but Jeanie’s comments should relieve the fans who believe that they deserve another shot and restoring this franchise to its former glory. In the meantime, the Lakers still have a long summer ahead as they take more steps to further their long rebuilding process.