Mitch Kupchak has faced all kinds of criticism over his years as the Los Angeles Lakers general manager. He was even thrown under the bus by Kobe Bryant at one point. That was, until he brought in Trevor Ariza, and eventually Pau Gasol in the same season. Then, he finally got some respect from Lakers fans.
However, as soon as fans caught wind that Jim Buss was now running the show instead of his beloved father, Dr. Jerry Buss, the criticism and hate began to fall on him. I was skeptical at first too, and thought that Mitch Kupchak should have more say than the younger Buss because of his proven track record.
Kupchak, in my opinion, has done an incredible job and made some excellent and nearly impossible moves over his tenure with the Lakers. The only move I strongly disapprove of in hindsight was giving Luke Walton a six-year deal back in 2006 (even though I really disapproved of trading away Derek Fisher at the time, I understand it now).
Back to Jim Buss, though. After the Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, I knew something had to be done. I didn’t necessarily think it needed to be a massive overhaul as Magic Johnson suggested, but I knew something had to be done. At the same time, however, I knew after the new collective bargaining agreement was in place that it would be extremely difficult for the Lakers to improve.
But, somehow, the Lakers yet again pulled of an incredible move that would lower their salary costs exponentially for years to come and upgrade the team with a dynamic, future Hall-of-Fame player in Chris Paul. Obviously, that didn’t happen as David Stern disagreed with that proposal in an unprecedented move that was supposed to set the Lakers back by five years.
I continually hear people bashing management, and more specifically, Jim Buss. However, if Buss was the one calling the shots on that move, he should have earned some sort of respect for that alone. The deal falling apart was in no way, shape, or form his fault. I was skeptical of giving up size for a point guard at first, but after reviewing Lamar Odom’s fragile state of mind and painfully watching Pau Gasol try to involve himself into new coach Mike Brown’s offensive system, I completely saw his vision.
Maybe Kupchak had the same thoughts as I, and wanted to keep Brian Shaw and the triangle offense to give the same team one more chance, but maybe his vision was the same as Buss’. In either case, management collectively made a decision and envisioned moving the team in a new direction; one with a prototypical point guard at the helm. Additionally, to pursue their vision, they pulled off an incredible deal for one of the absolute best point guards in the league. It just didn’t work out.
The only decision fans should truly have grounds for criticizing would be the coaching decision, because when things don’t go right, everyone always blames the coach. Personally, I think Mike Brown did as good of a job as anyone put in his position could have done, other than under-utilizing Gasol, but we’ll save that for another day. As far as personnel though, the Lakers have made all the right moves in my estimation.
I was disgruntled when management traded away Lamar Odom for nothing, as was Kobe Bryant. Similarly, I didn’t like that they traded away Derek Fisher for Jordan Hill in an effort to save money, when I knew the Lakers would need Fisher’s leadership in the playoffs.
However, I had faith in Mitch Kupchak more than anything, and he once again put my concerns at ease and I now have more faith in Jim Buss as well. I truly believe that they are working together and are on the same page, and they are doing an excellent job thus far.
So far this off-season, management used the trade exception acquired in the Lamar Odom deal to bring in future Hall of Famer Steve Nash. Apparently it was Buss who urged Kupchak to make the call to Nash’s agent, despite a strong unlikelihood that he would ever put on a Lakers uniform.
Additionally, the Lakers are apparently in talks to bring in Antawn Jamison (which I think is a great move), and as you’ve probably heard, are relentlessly pursuing Dwight Howard. Although I’m a big supporter of Andrew Bynum, I feel that with Steve Nash at the helm, Dwight Howard’s athleticism would be much more effective and a better overall fit; making the move one for the history books should it happen.
Also, should the Lakers re-sign Jordan Hill, management would have made yet another solid move as Hill provided consistency off the bench towards the end of last season even though he had limited time to learn the offensive system. Hill’s consistent play somewhat justified trading away Fisher at the time, and if the Lakers retain his services, it will be even more justified.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that Lakers’ management deserves some credit here. They were under the gun all season by the fans, and it’s time to give them their due praise. Jim Buss in particular has taken a lot of heat this year, but I believe he’s proved to everyone that he truly is his father’s son. Dr. Jerry Buss has always been one to make a big splash either through free agency or through blockbuster trades, and it is possible the Lakers will do both this off-season with his son calling the shots.
Lakers’ management virtually shook off the blow they took when the Chris Paul trade was vetoed by acquiring an older, but arguably still “Top 5” point guard in Steve Nash the next opportunity they got. Additionally, they are representing the team most seriously pursuing Dwight Howard and the most capable team of doing so.
That, I think, deserves at least some credit, right?