The Lakers are going through a season that has their fans saying, repeatedly, "Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse ..."
What could be even worse than what the Lakers are going through now?
A lot, when you consider just how perilous the future of this glorious franchise is.
As much as Lakers fans wish it could be true, Jerry Buss isn't going to live forever.
He has been hospitalized in the recent past, hasn't attended a Lakers game in 1½ seasons, and for the only time since he bought the team in 1979 didn't bring his proud smile to the Lakers' group team photo last April.
Buss, whose 79th birthday is Sunday, has been the greatest owner in sports history, and the prospect of losing leadership that great is daunting for any organization in any field.
In Buss' case, the plan is to hand the Lakers down to his six children – already having daughter Jeanie in place to run the business side and son Jim the basketball side.
Well ... Jeanie and Jim aren't speaking to each other.
They haven't since Mike Brown was fired as Lakers coach in early November and the Lakers went through that unseemly, confusing, hurtful dance with Phil Jackson – the love of Jeanie's life and now her fiancé – before hiring Mike D'Antoni.
Whenever the sad day comes when the team has to be handed down to the Buss children, things promise to get even uglier.
Pau Gasol talked after the chemistry-lacking Lakers' latest loss in Memphis on Wednesday night about how "our family should be tight." And maybe the Lakers' team can still pull it together somehow this season, however difficult that is to envision.
In the same way, it's possible the Buss children can come together as a family after their father is gone and work together for years, decades or lifetimes in the way that the patriarch hoped. Jim and Jeanie have gotten along OK at times in the past.
It's just looking extremely unlikely, which is why there are already rumblings about very rich men gearing up to bid and outside investors putting together ownership groups with the idea that the discord within the family will lead the children to sell what Jerry Buss holds: 66 percent ownership of the Lakers.
Details are scarce as to how Buss' trust is set up, but it is believed that amid all the complicated rules and regulations, the children agreed previously to heed their father's wishes and structure the trust to keep that majority ownership in the family. The six children (Johnny, Jim, Jeanie, Janie, Joey and Jesse) are believed to be locked in together by the trust – so that they stay together or they sell together. It is unclear if any one of them can sell his or her individual shares at any point, though logic would suggest that no one can be bound for perpetuity.
If the family does not sell, one looming possibility is either Jim or Jeanie leaving his or her post in the organization and becoming an absentee owner. How that might be determined and whether their siblings would have a say in that is hard to say, but such a development would obviously alter the entire top of the Lakers' organizational structure.
If it turns out to be Jim who departs, it's no stretch at all to speculate what so many fans would love to imagine right about now: Jackson returning to the Lakers, to help Jeanie bring championships back.
Maybe – and what a twist it would be – Jackson returning as Jim Buss' replacement in running basketball operations? Maybe as head coach again? Maybe in a Tex Winter role as hands-on advisor to the head coach?
That's all assuming Jackson doesn't accept another job in Seattle, Brooklyn or elsewhere – though those clubs would not have his future wife attached ... unless she is the one who decides to leave the Lakers.
Jeanie, 51, is in her 14th season as Lakers executive vice president of business operations – but it was Jim, 53, who was groomed by their father to replace him. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said of Jim before this season: "He's gradually taken the place of his dad so it's almost been a complete transition, really."
When I spoke to Jim before the season and asked him about the long-term future and the Buss family possibly selling the Lakers at some point, he said: "Just isn't a thought. I want to continue on."
There has been a lot of criticism of Jim for the Lakers' coaching hires aside from Jackson and for the Lakers losing lately, although everyone seemed sold on the wisdom of acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nashnot too long ago.
There is no doubt that Jim and Jeanie, separately, love the Lakers.
Whether they love each other the way that they love their father ... that's another issue.
If there is indeed some mechanism for freeing some of the children to sell their shares – and bear in mind how severe inheritance taxes can be – it's not hard to imagine some wanting to.
It's not hard to imagine anyone wanting to sell when you consider the economic stratosphere one could be launched into with Forbes valuing the Lakers at $1 billion on Wednesday. And sorry, that sounds spectacular, but a $1 billion projection is far too low in the real world: The dazzling Lakers brand built up by Jerry Buss transcends simple cash-flow analysis, and what an ego stroke it would be to the next majority owner (someone who most assuredly will have a huge ego already) to possess this golden toy.
So there might be a fight within the trust by some children for the right to sell – which could prompt a fight by some children trying to buy and stay in the family business. The Buss kids not nearly having billionaire money, it's no fantasy to envision Jim Buss teaming with Patrick Soon-Shiong on one side and Jeanie Buss teaming with Larry Ellison on another – though if you're going to put the money up, you'd think you'd want to be the guy in charge.
Maybe a David Geffen plan here, a Michael Eisner bid there, Magic Johnson everywhere trying to front a group ... everyone angling to own the Lakers, who for so long have been so stable and so solidly ruled. Talk about potential distractions as the Lakers try to stay focused on championship chances during Kobe Bryant's final stretch and beyond.
However it all goes down, it's going to be crazy.
Right now, few know or even care that 3 percent is Ed Roski Jr.'s, 4 percent is Soon-Shiong's and 27 percent of the Lakers is available with Philip Anschutz including his personal Lakers stake in his epic sale of AEG.
Right now, the Lakers remain Jerry Buss' team.
As messed up as they seem at 17-25 with the league's largest payroll by a mile and the new collective bargaining agreement undercutting so many of their old competitive advantages, the Lakers stand as something special, something trustworthy, something better as long as they are Jerry Buss' team.
When that safety net is gone, the circus will really be in town.