There seems to be a rift in the Lakers. A developing chasm. After one of the more tumultuous seasons in recent history, the team is on the verge of total change, and finds itself suddenly facing the prospects of an uncertain future.
Much of the uncertainty surrounding the current team is due to the front office. Fair or not, there is an enormous shadow of doubt hovering over the upstairs executives, as fans continue to wonder whether or not the Lakers are still in good hands.
In the past it was simple. Since 1979 the answer was always yes. With Jerry Buss at the helm things were always controlled. Calculated. And even though Jim (his son) and Jeanie (his daughter) haven’t done anything that would indicate the team is in serious trouble, that hasn’t stopped speculation from all sides as to just how big of an issue Dr. Buss’ departure will be for this team.
When Dr. Buss passed away last February, he had a system in place to help keep the Lakers in control. Like any great businessman, and he was one of the best, he was fully prepared. He didn’t want any side to have too much power in the struggle for Laker supremacy, so the checks and balances he created would act as a constricting set of guidelines to keep the team from being monopolized – either by Jim or Jeanie.
Now, I’m not hinting that either of Dr. Buss’ two children (he actually has six but for the sake of the story just go with me here) would try and muscle out the other. Even a friendly sibling rivalry, which is what this seems to be, has spats and disagreements. And, even if two people are related, when one believes they are right and the other is convinced that they’re not, well that can cause some problems. Another large factor can be the personalities of each, as often times the dominant personality, the more outgoing and brash, will be able to overtake the quieter, more meek individual. Conflict avoidance can be sensed from miles away, and like sharks seeking blood, the mentally aggressive immediately sense their advantage.
Back to the point – when Dr. Buss passed away he split the Lakers up, giving control of the business side of the franchise to Jeanie, while basketball operations went to Jim. One of the reasons for this decision, allegedly, was to prevent Jeanie (and partner Phil Jackson) from gaining too much control on the basketball end. And it worked. When the team needed a head coach at the beginning of this last season, it was Jim (with help from Jerry) that selected Mike D’Antoni over Jeanie’s beau, Jackson. This decision was met with venom from most fans, who demand a highly successful resume from anybody that expects to take over their beloved Lakers, but it was clearly not Jeanie’s choice either.
“I was not happy with how things happened,” Jeanie admitted at a Time Warner Media event Wednesday night in Los Angeles. “I was disappointed, but I’m biased. I don’t think anybody would judge me to say [Phil] is the best coach in the entire world. That’s my prerogative to feel that way. They had their reasons for doing what they did, but I kind of have that what-if feeling. What if he had coached?”
While Jeanie is certainly entitled to her opinion, it could be the beginning of something far more severe for the Lakers. While to this point she’s remained professional and hasn’t publicly stepped on Jim’s toes or dismissed the job he’s done with the team, if they can’t get on the same page the team could be in heaps of trouble. Even though both are in charge of different aspects of the organization, a disconnect between them spells only trouble for the Lakers, even if it’s not this season or next, but years down the line. The main reason for the Lakers success during their time in Los Angeles has been a consistent, steady front office that trusted itself and the people hired to make it work. While I’m not suggesting that this is no longer the case, the obvious disconnect between the two is a tad alarming.