Los Angeles Lakers president Jeanie Buss has taken the reins of a reclamation project recently, defending her team in the wake of a lottery-bound season, while markedly mapping out talking points in response to former Lakers coach Phil Jackson taking the reins in New York. It’s a smart move, discussing Kobe Bryant’s viability as a player moving forward and discussing the team’s potential with basketball personnel chiefs Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak utilizing salary cap space and a lottery pick moving forward, but it still hasn’t done much to dissuade most from assuming that the Laker front office is a fractured bunch – split evenly between the warring brother (Jim) and sister (Jeanie) on the business (Jeanie) and basketball (Jim) sides of things.
The sister wants to put to rest any uncertainty about who is in charge, though. In case anyone was wondering, she hit the airwaves and brought down the hammer on Thursday. From Ramona Shelburne at ESPN Los Angeles:
"I'm the boss," Jeanie Buss said in an hourlong interview on the "Mason and Ireland" show on ESPNLA 710 radio Thursday. "I am responsible ultimately for anything with the team and decisions that are made.
"In my position, I empower people that are in positions to do their jobs. [Executive vice president of player personnel] Jim Buss and [general manager] Mitch Kupchak are responsible for all basketball decisions. They are empowered to do that. My job is to make sure, as a boss, that I provide them the tools to do the job successfully. But it's up to them to make the day-to-day decisions on how they operate their area of the business."
"Ultimately I am the one voice. I am that person. I'm at the top of the food chain," Buss said.
These are pretty strident, declarative statements, quotes pitched over a year after she presumably took to the top of that particular chain following the unfortunate passing of her much-beloved father, Dr. Jerry Buss.
Kobe Bryant’s much-criticized $48.5 million extension was inked last fall, and the Lakers have been spiraling to the lottery due to injuries for the last few months, so one has to wonder if Buss’ recent statements about Kobe’s contract and her status as the “final hammer” weren’t strategically placed in reaction to Jackson’s hire in New York. It’s true that Jackson hasn’t been a Laker employee since May of 2011, though he came close to earning a third coaching gig with the team in the fall of 2012, but his move to run the Knicks was viewed by many as a defection of sorts.
With Jim Buss running things, something many Laker fans are uneasy with, there really was no place for Jackson as a personnel director in Los Angeles. Jeanie Buss could have sat down for hour-long radio interviews about the pecking order in the Laker front office long ago, as the same fears about Kobe and his team’s future were already in place far before Thursday afternoon, so it seems more than coincidental Jeanie would step out as both the public face of the franchise and declare herself to be the Lakers leader in the same week that New York was able to fawn over the one-time Laker coach.
It also makes sense she should be the final voice on things, even if her public statements in defense of Bryant’s massive contract extension are quite debatable to say the least. (Really, what else is she going to say?) Jim Buss is the sort of guy who wears baseball caps in public even though he’s not a professional baseball player currently working in public on a baseball field, and also not 9 years old. If Jim Buss wants to fully devote himself to chasing down a modern version of Showtime while handing Kobe Bryant $25 million to play basketball when he’s 37 years old some two years after an Achilles tear, then someone else should really be minding the store above him.
Jeanie Buss wants everyone to know she’s handling not only the business end of things, but the whole Lakers store. This also means she’s basically developed into the first female lead executive of a franchise in the NBA’s history, which is also a very cool thing.
How this affects the basketball end of things, as the Lakers look to create a future around the declining Bryant, remains to be seen.
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