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The Los Angeles Lakers’ decision to overhaul the front office and install franchise icon Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations surprised many, not least for the speed with which the move came together. What did not come as much of a shock, though, was that Jim Buss will no longer serve in the role now occupied by Magic. While Buss will maintain his ownership share alongside his sister and team president Jeanie, it’s fair to say that his time as one of the franchise’s lead basketball decision-makers will not be remembered fondly. Under his direction, the Lakers came across as a decidedly retrograde franchise that failed to find a workable transition out of Kobe Bryant’s prime. No one thought he would last long in this role, and not just because he and his sister agreed that his position depended on returning to contention.
If anything, Jim Buss lasted longer as executive vice president of basketball operations than his job performance suggested he should. Jeanie Buss apparently agrees. Here’s what she said during the Lakers’ introduction of Johnson on Spectrum Sports on Tuesday afternoon (quotes via PBT):
“This was a very difficult decision,” Buss said. “It was probably so hard for me to make that I probably waited too long. And for that, I apologize to Lakers fans. But now with clarity and direction, and talking to with Earvin, really knowing a change was needed, and that’s why we’re here today.”
These comments are not entirely remarkable, because most owners and executives talk about how hard it is to fire general managers and decision-makers with whom they’ve worked closely for years. But there is a lot to the idea that this was an especially difficult choice to make. In the most basic sense, Jeanie Buss had to fire her brother. The Buss siblings have often had disagreements over the years, but they’re still blood and inherited the NBA’s most consistently successful franchise when their father died in February 2013. The possibility was always there, but it’s still a big step to fire your own brother. It can’t have been easy.
More generally and more importantly, it was likely a tough decision because the Lakers have depended on continuity far more than other franchises. The three men fired on Tuesday — Jim Buss, general manager Mitch Kupchak, and public relations boss John Black, had all been with the team for considerable periods of time:
-Kupchak: 30 seasons w/ LAL, was in 17th as GM.
-Jim: 19 w/ LAL, was in 12th as EVP of basketball ops.
-John Black: 27 as LAL publicist.
— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) February 21, 2017
These are rare tenures in a league where turnover and rash firings are the norm. To be sure, they held these jobs for long periods in part because the Lakers were very good for most of them — they were ostensible championship contenders from 1996 to 2013, give or take a few years. Nevertheless, Jeanie Buss really did develop meaningful relationships with Kupchak and Black (whose dismissal came as a major surprise) over the years. It makes sense that this would have been hard for her.
In a way, then, bringing in a new brain trust of Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant’s longtime agent, and the son of Jerry West makes total sense. All three people have long-term connections to the Lakers and understand the franchise’s culture. Whether they succeed is yet to be determined. No matter what, though, the Lakers stuck with one of their core concepts on a tumultuous Tuesday — win or lose, they’re going to do it on their own terms.
More on Yahoo Sports:
• Ex-WNBA star Wiggins claims she was bullied for being straight
• Lakers president Buss says she waited too long to fire her brother Jim
• The NBA trade deadline’s most intriguing teams
• Transgender teen wins wrestling title in controversial fashion
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