Today, the L.A. Times released an exclusive interview of Jeanie Buss done by infamous columnist Bill Plaschke. Buss covered a multitude of topics, all stemming from her displeasure in how the 2021-22 season went after the team dipped into the luxury tax with the 4th-highest payroll in the NBA.
Within the interview, Jeanie Buss also issued strong defenses of the many individuals who have a voice in decision-making for the team. These individuals include Rob Pelinka, Kurt Rambis, Magic Johnson, Phil Jackson, and Linda Rambis.
Buss indicated that Linda does not have a say in basketball decisions (which seems like a contradiction to Linda’s participation in coaching interviews during the 2019 offseason), but that’s still five names that Buss had to address following this mess of a season.
Take Linda out of the equation, and that’s still four individuals that were confirmed by Buss to have a say in the decisions the Lakers make that lead to the product that’s eventually put on the floor. Those names don’t even include Jeanie’s brothers Joey Buss (CEO of South Bay Lakers, VP of Research and Analytics for Lakers) and Jesse Buss (assistant GM of Lakers, director of scouting) who are reportedly involved in the current search for a head coach.
It’s a point that’s been stated by many, but there really seems to be an issue of “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Look at the current teams most likely to win an NBA championship and think about who the key decision-makers are. Do you think of more than one name for any of those teams? Is anyone coming to mind for the Warriors other than Bob Myers? Anyone other than Brad Stevens for the Celtics? Anyone other than Zach Kleiman for the Grizzlies?
But for the Lakers, the team’s fans as well as the fans of the other 29 teams in the Association may not even list Rob Pelinka first when thinking of the key decision-makers for the purple and gold. Of course, external thoughts on the inner workings of the team shouldn’t matter… but given the fact that Jeanie Buss felt the need to address all of those external thoughts, it seems that the fans’ perceptions are right on the money.
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been included on personnel decisions ever since they had their respective arrivals. The two both belong to Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports agency, with Buss clarifying in the article that none of those parties have any sort of final say on the team’s decisions.
However, Buss does seem to be self-aware of the growing number of people whom she gives a voice in the team’s inner workings. She said the following on how she views the current structure:
“I’m a collaborator, that’s my nature, as opposed to a sole decision maker,” said Buss.
And who are we to judge how she conducts her business? I, myself, am especially included in that “we” as I’m just another 28-year-old “blog boy” criticizing a smart and powerful woman who herself has been included in the organization since she was barely 18-years-old.
It was all of those years of experience working along with her dad Dr. Jerry Buss that ultimately led to her becoming the first woman majority owner in American sports history to have her team win a championship. That 2020 NBA Finals victory for the Lakers also gave the franchise the tie in all-time championships with the team’s, fans’, and her dad’s bitter rivals: the Boston Celtics.
However, is Jeanie Buss resting on the laurels of that championship? In her mind, is she thinking, “How could I fire Rob Pelinka, the trusted confidant of Kobe Bryant who helped construct the team that won a championship less than two calendar years ago?”
That’s a fair thought, until you consider the absolute avalanche of terrible decisions that have followed that championship, with those decisions now squarely being put on Pelinka’s shoulders not only by himself, but by the woman in charge as well.
Buss seemed to not consider a change by subtraction… but would she consider a change by addition? I still would argue that some of these cooks need to leave the kitchen, especially the ones that can’t seem to cook a steak to the right temperature. But Jesse and Joey Buss should probably get increased voices in the room given the fact that their assigned areas of work have been one of the lone consistent successes over the years.
But given the fact that this exclusive interview could have served as a way to let the public know that those successful younger brothers of hers would have an increased role moving forward with no indication of that happening, it reasons to believe that they won’t get more power.
So, the only major change in the organization coming this offseason will be a new coach following Frank Vogel’s firing. The collaborations will continue. Collaborating isn’t a bad thing. Hell, those executives such as Bob Myers, Brad Stevens, and Zach Kleiman probably have plenty of voices underneath them helping with the decisions the organizations ultimately agree on.
“Underneath” is the key word there, as none of Jeanie Buss’s words seem to indicate that Rob Pelinka, the man with the ultimate responsibility to build a contender, has the ultimate power.
It all makes it seem that the 2020 championship, despite the immediate success and elation it provided in the moment, may have led to the thundering clouds overlooking the Lakers today. Because although the victory gave the organization, the fans, and the Buss family joy while immediately validating the massive trade for Anthony Davis… it seems to have blinded our fearless leader from making the hard and correct decisions in a timely manner that are needed to build sustained success.
Instead, she’s continuing her trust in a hodgepodge of people with basketball resumes mostly (shout out Phil) ranging from “okay” to “bad” depending on what decade of their experience you’re looking into.
Those hard decisions may come following this 2022-23 season… but with this season being the last season of LeBron James’ contract… will those decisions come too late?