“The death of God left the angels in a strange position.” – Donald Barthelme
The idea of uncertainty is one that frightens many people. As humans, we get comfortable with our surroundings and are afraid to step beyond our own grounds and put ourselves in a place we do not know. This is why such a large percentage of the world’s population die within 15 miles of where they were born. We get used to something, and we do whatever we can to hold onto it. Yet that doesn’t stop the change from coming. No matter how much we long for things to remain the same, especially when things are going well, we can’t avoid (or ignore) the change when it does happen.
And that period of transformation, of extreme change, is where the Lakers find themselves right now. A state of flux. An orbital device suddenly detached from the same revolution it had been in for decades. And with this change comes a remarkable sense of worry. How will things ever be the same? How will this team, that has built a foundation of stone in the heart of Los Angeles and done nothing but increase in altitude for over 30 years, how will it continue growing without the architect that put the initial blueprints together.
When team owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away last February, these questions began to arise. After losing Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets last week, more people began to question the direction of the franchise. Have they lost their lure? Have we finally reached a place in time where the Lakers are no longer the Lakers? Has the rest of the league caught up? You see in the past the Lakers were Mecca. The shining example of what a basketball franchise should be. The rest of the Association’s inhabitants were mere pilgrims, on a roundball Hajj attempting to spend one summer in the glorious sunlight.
The Lakers have lost a transcendent free agent for the first time in team history, and is suddenly looking at a multi-year rebuilding process that is anything but certain. So where does this leave them?
I had the privilege of speaking to Roland Lazenby, a distinguished author and a man fairly close with the happenings in the Laker organization. He’s written numerous books about the Lakers, including an intriguing look into the life of the original Los Angeles superstar, Jerry West. While speaking with Lazenby, I learned that it’s not just fans that are uncertain of where this Laker team is heading. That the nepotism and seemingly increasing incompetence in the team’s front office is a growing concern for those in the professional circuit as well.
“This is a painful time,” Lazenby said. “It’s always painful when you throw away success to embrace conflict.”
So what’s the conflict? What’s the reason behind the loss of Howard and the growing uncertainty behind the scenes?
“I do believe Dwight and Kobe would have been fine, because Shaq and Kobe were fine enough to win three. They just needed Phil and Tex. (Now) Phil’s worn down and Tex is incapacitated. Phil could have pulled those two tighter, but Phil alienated the Busses, first the old man, then the son. And the Busses aren’t the kind of guys to articulate their alienation. Jeanie tries to put a good spin on it, but it really is an ugly thing. And we’ve witnessed an ugly moment.”
An ugly moment could seemingly be fixed, though. Because if it’s indeed just a moment, it’s expected to be followed by another and another, in which there is time for both parties to fix the issue and get the proverbial ship back on the right course. But, whatever the reasons may be, that doesn’t seem to be a realistic possibility between the two sides of this particular spat.
“The feelings are apparently so hard, they can’t be successful together. I’m from the mountains, and we have a phrase around here. “They’d rather fight than —-.” It’s crude, but it aptly describes the enmity between Jim Buss and Phil.”
Perhaps, in reality, this shouldn’t be as surprising as it would seem. Phil Jackson is notorious for being difficult to work with. He’s a man absolutely set in his ways, with the idea that he knows best, and that his strategies and plans will be the best possible way to achieve success. And for good reason. You don’t become the greatest coach in league history by sitting on your hands idly, waiting for others to give you direction.