This also isn’t the first time that Jackson has had trouble with an acting member of the Lakers front office. Years ago, when Jerry West was still running the squad as general manager, Jackson once asked the legendary Laker to leave the team locker room. A man that was the face of the franchise since its Los Angeles inception was cast aside by Jackson, shoved out the door like an aging veteran that couldn’t hack it anymore. So then should we really be that surprised that Jackson and Jim Buss aren’t able to get on the same page? Perhaps not. But even with Jackson’s notorious stubbornness, that didn’t prevent him from trying to help Buss and the organization by doing his part to recruit Howard, before the big man made his decision.
“I do think Phil humbled himself by publicly asking Dwight to stay. Phil risked looking foolish. I like that. I think that’s good for Phil. There have been some times in his life when he was too cool for school. But I see Phil as having dealt with some things in his life. I think he’s grown quite a bit.”
So then if Jackson is able to put aside personal issues from the past, why can’t Buss? What’s holding Jim back from swallowing his pride and accepting that Jackson does give his franchise the best opportunity to be successful? Is he so set in his ways that he would rather lose without Phil than bear winning with him?
“It falls on Jim and Phil. They can’t co-exist. I’m no psychologist, but apparently Phil’s brand of arrogance can’t be digested by Jim. I think the need to develop Dwight Howard was the best opportunity for the Lakers to include Phil. It was ideal, but Jim Buss couldn’t bear to accept that. The only way Phil returns is if Jim has a change of heart or if Jim steps down.”
Both of those options, it seems, are unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon. At least not before the Lakers have fallen flat on that nose they used to stick so highly into the air.
Still, if Jackson was willing to publicly humble himself by asking Dwight Howard to return, why won’t Jim Buss meet him halfway? Where Jackson has shown maturity and an ability to evolve emotionally, Jim is left behind, slowly sinking. Attempting to tread water in a vat of oil.
“The thing about being successful in sports and media and music and film, it requires finding a way to work with sometimes arrogant and impossible people. If you’re going to sit around and hold grudges against talented people you’re not going to get very far in a competitive world. It will be interesting to see how far Jim takes this thing down. Does he have it in him to step up and lead? Or is he just a rich snot who’s happened to been given something by his daddy, something that’s dear to many people. Right now, it doesn’t look good.”
But even with Jim’s history of what seems to be poor decisions, Mr. Lazenby doesn’t think it’s all crashing down in El Segundo. Or at least he believes there’s still a way to stop the sky from falling.
“I hope Jim Buss has all kinds of things figured out that I can’t fathom. I really mean that. I’ll give him the benefit of some more doubt. I have no choice. I hope he and Mitch can find a way forward.”
So then that’s where we are. A once-great organization seemingly reduced to rubble in a matter of years. The once glowing lighthouse of Western Conference supremacy seems to be dwindling, and not even the beacons of Amon Din will summon help fast enough to save her.
Remember earlier when I compared the Lakers to Mecca? The metaphor seems true enough, as for decades we’ve watched other Western Conference organizations do whatever they could to scratch and crawl their way to the top, only to be thwarted once again by the Lakers. Well Lazenby had another comparison. Another city on the hill to compare the Lakers franchise to. And it seems equally fitting.
“Dr. Buss built the organization, with his ability to relate to talent. He was good at letting talented people do their thing. He created a Camelot by doing that. In my opinion, Camelot seems to be on the way out. I hope not, but it sure seems that way.”
Call it what you’d like – Camelot, Mecca or simply Los Angeles – the uncertain times ahead will likely be rocky. There will be moments of pain, but hopefully there will be glimpses of hope through the carnage. When looked at through an optimistic ocular, you’ll remember that this is a team that has faced adversity many times before. They’ve seen more eras come and go than nearly any other franchise, each one followed by a period of uncertainty and fear. Fear of the unknown. But following each of these momentary segments of panic, the team has pulled itself back up and marched forward. And that’s where we are again.
Things are uncomfortable now in Los Angeles. The fans, players and front office big wigs are out in the cold. The nice, cozy warmth of the championship fire has dwindled in the last two seasons. But it’s time for them to find a new normal. To re-establish a comfort zone and find success within it.
And if anybody can do that, it’s the Lakers.
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