Jim Buss is not an idiot.
No, really, I mean it.
For years, if you turned on talk radio, or read stuff newspaper people like, say, me wrote, you got the impression it was the owner’s kid who screwed up the Lakers, culminating in his decisions to let arch-nemeses Phil Jackson walk in 2010 and to hire Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil in 2012.
Actually, Jim’s father made both of those decisions.
There’s a moral here: Even greats – and Jerry Buss was the greatest NBA owner of them all – screw up.
There definitely was a time after his father brought Jim into the organization in the late ‘90s when he looked like he was ticking, like a time bomb.
I used to compare it to Jed Clampett turning the Beverly Hillbillies over to Cousin Jethro as often as I could get it in the paper. I even heard that Jerry once laughingly addressed his son as “Jethro.”
Jim was supposed to apprentice under GM Jerry West but he didn’t show up in the office every day, or many days, as if it was a real job.
As opposed to hanging out with Laker staffers on scouting trips, Jim took his friend, Chaz.
Showing how clueless Jim was to;
1) Think it, and
2) Tell a writer, Jim told Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz, who wrote the definitive story on the Buss kids, “evaluating basketball talent is not too difficult. If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts.”
Nevertheless, Jim was part of the decision-making process by 2004 when his father traded Shaquille O’Neal and showed Jackson the door for the first time, to keep free agent Kobe Bryant.
As far as debuts went, Jim’s didn’t look too good when a story got out about Jim telling his sister, Jeanie, that Rudy’s five-year, $30 million deal was what good NBA coaches made.
As if. It was the biggest contract in coaching, matching what they had paid Jackson, coming off six titles in Chicago, to win three more in his first Laker stint.
Worse, the leak came from someone close to Jeanie with a fondness for emailing press people, tipping off the in-house rivalry.
Nor did it help when the new era got off to a disastrous start as the team went 34-48, and Rudy T. went over the hill.
Actually, Tomjanovich’s departure was a stroke of luck. Rudy T., a recovering alcoholic who was alarmed at his stress level as he tried to live up to Laker expectations—they didn’t want him to even use the “R word” for “rebuilding”–high-tailed it out of here, leaving behind his five-year, $30 million deal.
And making it possible to rehire Jackson.
At that point, Jim was thought to be skeptical of Kupchak, who was then under the gun all around, with a season ticket holder at a “town hall” meeting asking Mitch to resign to his face.