When Jerry Buss purchased the Lakers in 1979 from Jack Kent Cooke, he had a goal in mind – excellence. Since that time Jerry was the most successful NBA owner, winning 10 championships and reaching the finals 16 times. He obtained some of the greatest talents to ever play basketball in Kareem Abdul Jabar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. He hired legendary coaches in Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. For over 20 years Jerry was the Midas of basketball in the sense that everything this guy touched was gold(and purple). Similar to how American football was always associated with the Cowboys, American Basketball was always associated with the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
Today, in 2014, you have the worst Laker season since the move to LA. Jerry Buss has to be rolling into his grave because this is not the brand he has built up for his team. With that said, this has a small part to do with the lack of a contingency plan the Lakers had in terms to coaching, owners and players. This series is going to recap and follow the fall of the Lakers and what they are going to have to do to repair it. To be in a world where the Lakers are not a contender is an odd one, however the Lakers have nobody to blame but themselves.
There is the age-old saying that you can only kill a snake by cutting of its head. I interpret that as if the snake has its head it is still leathal, it is still cunning, it is still a snake. In recent years this carries three meanings for the Lakers : Jerry Buss was the snake head of the organization, Phil Jackson was the snake head of their success, and Kobe Bryant was the snake head for their team. It was a 3 headed snake and they where as scary as that sounds. Check this, in the previous decade, the Lakers won the NBA Championship in five of them. That is 50% of the time if you are not that good at math. Let me put it this way, the Lakers have won more games in 10 years then the Thunder (as the Seattle SuperSonics), Trailblazers and the Wizards have since the merger in 1976 (they have all only won it once since). My point is that the Lakers are not really used to this low-level of play. When I say the Lakers are bad it is important you understand why this is a big deal. In the NBA, the words Lakers and awful are not supposed to go together. Lets find out how we got here.
1) Death Of Jerry Buss, Death of an Era
When Jerry Buss died, the reigns were handed down to his son Jim Buss. A lot of people were not content with the Lakers’s haste decision to hire Jim Buss because he is unproven and is handed the most marketed team in America. To me, the problems did not occur when Jim (Jeanie, who ever the heck is the owner because at this point nobody knows) took over but rather before the change.
The Lakers have taken the Yankee approach to building their team for years. If you can’t grow them, buy them. It isn’t very hard to sell a young man on being a Laker because I am sure the sales pitches goes like this “Its LA, need I say more?”. I believed it has worked, being able to bring players like Kareem, Shaq, and Gasol to LA just because they were on teams with a smaller market. However the NBA has changed and is always changing, as the key to keeping your organization strong is by selecting players that will fit a system instead of creating a system around the players.
Look at how the Spurs stay vital – Greg Popivich is able to rest his star players because they have grown players like Leonard and Splitter to play with in the Spurs system. The Bulls do the same thing, Thibodeau has a system and is given players to fit that system. Even the Celtics, the Batman to LA’s Superman, is re-tooling their team with Brad Stevens at the helm. Rob Asghar, a writer for Forbes.com, made a great analysis about how the Lakers have been keeping their team together, saying that “For years, the Lakers held themselves together with duct tape and bravado” and I can not think of a better way to describe it. Every piece they have added has seemed only temporary – what was once a focal point the Laker organization in the ability to bring talent here is now becoming their weakest trait.
Now that Jerry is gone, the team is having a bit of an identity crisis problem. The organization (by that I mean the brother and sister Jim and Jeanie) is going to have to sit down and create a plan, because as of right now, it does not appear there is one. I would vote that step one would be establishing who is in charge. Jeanie Buss is claiming to be in charge when Jim is in the owner’s chair shows you where the dysfunction starts. the second change would be
2) Finding Mr. Right for the coaching job
I don’t hate Mike D’Antoni. I should start off by saying that, because it may come off that way. I believe that his system does work, and it has been proven to work. It is not a system that you can carry to another team and just implement. It requires serious tooling, the type that takes years to develop. The only team I could see Mike going to was Golden state because that team would fit the way Mike likes to coach. After Phil Jackson retired from coaching in 2011, Mike Brown had accepted the job to fill in the big shoes that belong to the Zen Master. A year later the Lakers did what the Lakers do best in getting big name players to play on the Lakers. After signing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, it looked like the Lakers would be an instant contender to battle the newly formed Miami Big Three. Boy were we all wrong. That team was a train wreck, losing all 8 games in the preseason and losing 4 our of 5 of the first games. The Laker organization hit the panic button and fired Mike Brown, which was a good move because he isn’t that good of a coach and has creepy, and hired Mike D’antoni.
This was not a smart move to make. I am not saying they should have re hired Phil Jackson who wanted to come back at that point but I did not think then, nor do I think now that Mike was a good fit or a good coach. It didn’t make sense – aside from Dwight, most of this team was aged. His offensive scheme did not quite match up because it revolves around quick play and executing the fast break, things that those players could not do. Not to mention Mike does not believe in defense. Signing Mikey D also didn’t make much sense because he had recently been let go by the New York Knicks for the train wreck that was and still is that team. If this guy had come from a team that shown signs of life and talent then it would have more sense. He didn’t and his inability to control his team showed in New York proving that he can’t handle players with big egos. As a result, Mike could not get that Laker team to buy into his system because he command the respect to do so. Mike did not have the respect of Howard and does not have the respect the of Kobe and without those guys buying into your system, it is worth nothing.
Part of me believes that Howard would have stayed if they had fired D’Antoni or never hired him in the first place. The Lakers could have really built around Dwight at this point with the future of Kobe up in the air, Pau more than likely leaving and Steve Nash’s retirement looming. There was a serious rift, almost a fight between staff and players, that could be seen in certain games as the season progressed. At the end of the season, it came down to Dwight or D’Antoni, and the Lakers chose Mike. I am not sure if it was pride that led them to that point. Maybe it was belief in his system or a game plan that we did not know about. What ever the reason of not doing everything to keep Dwight is why the Lakers are here and will be here for a while.
At this point the Lakers need to look for a coach that has a real game plan. Names like Calipari and Synder have been thrown around, and for the most part they would do a great job as long as they have an idea as to where to take the team in the next 5 to 10 years and it is a subject we will touch on once the regular season ends. One thing is for sure Mike should have never been offered the position in the first place but i hope he enjoyed the ride.
The Lakers have a lot of work to do to retain and maintain the Laker brand of excellence. In the next post I will continue to chronicle the Laker’s fall and talk about the current state of the team’s players and mainly about Kobe. What do the Lakers do about Kobe? Come here next week to find out. As for today let us know what you think the Lakers need to do in order to be successful again. Should they go after Kevin Love or Carmelo? Should they trade up in the draft? Let us know in the comments below, On our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Thanks for reading up on the Post Up!
All stats were obtained by espn.com and landofbasketball.com