SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Jeanie Buss smiled as she made her way down the red carpet. She spoke to a friend on her right and a reporter on her left. The conversations halted her path.
Buss, the co-owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers, was here at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica for the 2018 NBA Awards. The buzz surrounding the event was bigger than last year’s, just like the NBA’s popularity itself.
Soon, though, the NBA buzz will center around Buss’ organization, which makes sense considering the history of the Lakers and lure of Los Angeles.
“It’s nice to be respected in the industry,” Buss told a group of reporters Monday afternoon, “but I think we have to earn that respect.”
Come July 1, when free agency begins, her Lakers will get their chance.
Not only is LeBron James available this summer, but Paul George is, too. The Lakers — an organization that has missed the playoffs in five consecutive years — will likely pursue both players (among other stars) with one goal in mind.
“I’d really like to be in the playoffs next year,” Buss said, “so that’s what we’re hoping for.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters Monday he would be watching free agency play out like a fan. “But I have one other source of information that fans don’t have,” he said with a laugh. “[I get] what comes into the league office.”
Silver said he’s interested to see where James goes and what movement occurs, but he will not not paying any special attention to the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss, who took command of the Lakers in 2013 after he late father passed, obviously is.
Since Buss took over, the organization has won a mere 44 percent of its games.
Last year, amid the team’s struggle, Buss knew she needed to make a front office change, so she hired Rob Pelinka as general manager and Earvin “Magic” Johnson as president of basketball operations. Buss hoped the new front office would establish an identity for the Lakers.
She said Monday she believed it has.
“It’s a fast style. It’s about passing. It’s about sharing the ball. It’s about committing to each other as a team,” Buss said of the new identity. “It’s all about how we win basketball games on any given night.”
Whether Buss likes it or not, the Lakers’ commitment to winning has played out in the public eye.
Last August, the Lakers were fined $500,000 after Pelinka had improper contact with George’s agent. In February, the Lakers were fined $50,000 for comments made by Johnson that were complimentary of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
This past week even, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported the Lakers’ front office held a meeting to warn employees about tampering. Asked about the most recent situation Monday, Silver said: “The Lakers were found to have violated the rules. They paid a price for it, and we’ve all moved on.”
Similarly, Buss said her message to the basketball community is now clear.
“The Lakers are serious about the way they play basketball,” Buss said, “so I think what we’re trying to build is [something we have to show] with our actions.”
Beginning July 1, free agency will serve as that first step. Over the next week, and even after free agency begins, Buss said she will spend her time in her office — not on vacation.
As for how she’ll partake in the free agency festivities?
“However they want to use me,” she said, “I’m there.”
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