By Alex Lambeth, with contributions from Jory Dreher
Photo: Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images
Jesse Buss, Lakers’ Scouting Coordinator and L.A. D-Fenders’ Director of Scouting, joined LakerNation.com for an exclusive interview this past week.
Buss, the youngest descendant of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss, is a vital member of the Lakers’ scouting staff. He joined us to describe his role for the Lakers, detail the intricate scouting process he oversees, speak on his father’s legacy, as well as a plethora of other topics.
Take a listen above, as Buss joined our inaugural Laker Nation Podcast, or read below to learn more about the youngest Buss sibling, and his close relationship with his father:
Alex Lambeth: What exactly is your role with the Lakers?
Jesse Buss: My job as the Director of Scouting basically consists of scheduling our scouting staff to see college games for the upcoming season, helping organize meetings with all of our scouts, and scouting prospects on a regular basis. I’m in constant contact with our staff. We’re constantly bouncing ideas off of each other of what players we need to spend most of our time focusing on, important events we need to attend, and just talking about what we’ve seen throughout the entire scouting year. I share an office in El Segundo with Ryan West, and him and I talk almost everyday—about everything that goes into scouting. Basically the day after the draft and during the off-season it’s more about preparation for the upcoming season and the following draft.
AL: How does scouting for the D-Fenders differ from the Lakers?
Buss: It differs in the fact that in the NBA draft, you know the players that you’re scouting on a year-to-year basis are going to be in the draft eventually—whether it’s in the same year that you scout them or in the future. For the NBDL players that are drafted, they come from leagues all around the world. They could have been in the NBA at some point and played overseas for a couple years, then want to get back into the NBA system and on the radar. They could be rookies from college who didn’t get drafted into the NBA, or they could be veterans of the developmental league. The draft pool consists of players that the league signs to a contract and then they participate in the draft, if another D-League team does not already hold their rights.
AL: What specifically do you look for in prospects?
Buss: There are a number of factors that I use when evaluating prospects. I think it’s important to not focus too much on one thing specifically, but to focus more so on the overall picture. There are obvious things on the court that involve physical gifts and talent levels, but there are also off the court characteristics that we look at. We have staff rank each player individually that will make the most positive impact on our franchise.
AL: The Lakers as an organization seems to always carry a “win now” mentality, does that put additional pressure on your staff to find guys who can fit in quickly?
Buss: I would say it’s the same pressure when we’re suggesting drafting any player for the Lakers. It’s important to have a player who can come in and make a difference right away, but I would say the factor we really look at is who we believe is going to be the best player for the Lakers overall. The goal I personally have in my mind is that I want us to draft a player who will contribute to the Lakers winning for the longevity of his career.
AL: Give us your thoughts on rookie forward Ryan Kelly out of Duke University.
Buss: He’s a fundamental player with a good amount of skill and a high basketball IQ. I believe he fits well with this system that we have, because he can add another dimension to our team. We don’t have a guy like him right now. There aren’t many guys with his size, he’s a legit 6’11”, that have the ability to shoot the ball from the range that he does. He’s a hard worker and has a good character, and I’m excited to watch him play.
AL: What kind of impact do you think rookie Elias Harris will have with the Lakers this season?
Buss: He brings certain things like his energy, toughness and athleticism that we can definitely use. It’s important to have guys who will work hard day in and day out, and always bring a level of competitiveness to raise the levels of others. It’s important to get younger players on the roster that our staff can continue to develop and eventually make an impact on the court.
Jory Dreher: What was it like growing up in a “basketball family”? Especially when your father, the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss, was one of the most iconic sports owners in history?
Buss: It definitely added to all of our competitive natures. As a family, we love to win and we’re very dedicated in doing so. My dad was able to instill that in all of us at a young age. For me personally, it was great to be able to share a deep passion amongst loved ones and often find common ground through it.
JD: If you could sum up the ‘Buss legacy’ in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Buss: That’s tough. I would say he was very successful in whatever he put his hands on, but the most important thing is that he had a strong presence and it proved to be the right way to run the franchise.
JD: Out of the sixteen championships that the Lakers have won, do any of them stand out to you personally? Do you have a favorite?
Buss: I remember five of them, which were the first three with Kobe and Shaq and then our most recent two in 2009 and 2010. I’d probably say the 2000 championship, because the first one you get to experience is always the sweetest, and that was really the first one for me. I was born late ’87 so the last one we won before that I wouldn’t remember. But yeah, that was definitely the most memorable one for me.
JD: How sweet was it to finally get past Boston in the 2010 Finals?
Buss: The last time we beat Boston I wasn’t even alive yet, but I do know how much it meant to my dad. He said on many occasions that he hated Boston—there’s nothing better than beating Boston when we were able to. After the ’08 Finals, it was especially sweet to beat them in 2010 and do it on our home floor. That was a wonderful experience.
JD: How do you expect Dr. Buss’s legacy to live on?
Buss: He’ll always be known as a person who cared deeply about the Lakers and the fans, even if he didn’t personally know all of them. He did everything he could to constantly bring a winner to Los Angeles and helped build the NBA to where it is today. He was a mentor and an inspiration to many people, including myself. He was very well known for his generosity. He was just a really cool guy and I couldn’t have asked for a better father.
JD: What is the biggest lesson about the business that you’ve learned from your father?
Buss: To always have the right people around you and let them do their jobs.
JD: I know that your father was your best friend, could you just speak on the bond that you two shared?
Buss: He was just somebody I could talk to about pretty much anything. He just understood all aspects of life—whether it was talking about a movie we had just seen, the latest hip-hop song that came out, basketball, or anything personal. He just really knew how to relate to anyone he talked to. He let me grow and develop as a person without trying to force me to do something. He was the type of person that would help you with something if you needed it and asked for it, but would prefer to let you figure it out yourself. Personally, I believe that was very empowering for me as an individual. I can’t thank him enough for everything that he has done for me. It is definitely a huge void in my life not having him here; I really miss talking to him.
JD: I recall a past interview that you had given to Lakers’ beat reporter Mike Trudell, in which you said your brother, Jim Buss, took you under his wing. What are some of the things that you picked up from him?
Buss: The first couple of scouting trips I did years ago were with him. He kind of just showed me the ropes in the sense of what the job entails. I would probably say the most important impact that he’s had on me is just the trust he’s put in me, and also at the same time just telling me to trust and believe in myself, as well.
AL: How often do you collaborate with your brother and General Manager Mitch Kupchak?
Buss: We often talk about everything that’s going on with anything that’s basketball related: anything that’s current, any game we saw, what’s going on with our team. But mainly we collaborate with college scouting and anything involved with that. I like to think that I’m constantly an information source for anything that’s going on scouting-wise for them. During the entire draft process, which is basically the whole year once the college season starts and even a little bit before that with the tournament, camps, and workouts, we collaborate almost everyday in preparation for the draft.
AL: Is that probably the most grueling part of the season for you, right up until the draft?
Buss: I would say probably during the last month, because you have all the information that you need. You’ve seen all the players you need to see and now it’s just about putting that to use. We watch a ton of tape, especially the last month when we’re all rooted and we’re able to be in the office everyday, as opposed to having to be on the road constantly. So, we’re really able to grind out everything that we need to. It’s more excitement than I would say grueling. We all love to do it and we all work very well together and we have a blast when we’re doing it.
AL: You started out as an assistant to Glenn Carraro, may you elaborate on the transitional period from then to now?
Buss: I started working as a basketball operations assistant under Glenn about eight years ago. I would do different things like statistical projects, filing scouting reports, organizing tape for our staff to watch, amongst other things. During that time I was scouting local college games for the first couple of years. Probably three or four years after that process, I started traveling around a lot more often and going to different places around the country and watching more college games. That essentially became the priority of my job. I did that for a couple of years and then I became more involved with the managerial type role in the scouting department.
AL: What is the most challenging part about scouting?
Buss: Well, in terms of scouting prospects there are certain factors that go beyond what a player can bring a team that you can’t really predict: injuries, misfortunes, etc. In terms of the actual job, the travel is difficult at times, but I enjoy it. I would say I’m probably out of town close to 100 days out of the year; I probably take 60 or so flights a year. So the travel can wear on you physically.
JD: With scouting being a year-round job, how many Lakers games are you able to catch per year?
Buss: I watch every Laker game one way or another, whether it’s live or recorded on TV, computer, cell phone, or when I’m actually in the stands. I would say I’m physically there for about half of the regular season games, whether we’re at home or on the road. I’m not present for as many home games because I’m constantly on the road. But at times I can catch the team when they’re playing in the city close to where I’m scouting.
JD: With all the traveling, what do you think is the most exciting part of your job?
Buss: I would say the most exciting part is being able to watch hundreds of new prospects every year. It’s definitely fun to watch players when they’re younger to see their progression and development throughout the years.
AL: Do you have any good scouting stories you can share with us?
Buss: Throughout the years I’ve had the pleasure to attend many exciting basketball games. I think the most interesting experience I’ve had is seeing two games in two different states in one day, and then the next day we’re in a different state seeing a different game. So all that type of travel and how it’s very condensed is interesting and at times, you’re driving through three states in two days.
AL: How about your favorite venue to watch college games?
Buss: I do have a couple. If I had to narrow it down to one actually, I really enjoy going to San Diego State and watching games there. Over the last couple years where they’ve been nationally ranked and they’ve had a couple kids come out there, the crowds have been very energetic and it’s just a great atmosphere. I definitely enjoy watching games there. Besides that, I’ve been to Kansas and that’s always electric. North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville, those are all really great schools to watch a game, and Michigan as well. Those are probably my top schools where I like to watch a game.
AL: Finally, your top Lakers players of all-time, in no particular order?
Buss: Well at my office I’m just looking outside and I see all the retired jerseys, so of course I have to mention quite a few of them. In no particular order though, I would say Kobe Bryant, Magic [Johnson], Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar.
Continuing on Pau Gasol:
Buss: It was during a very crucial time when he came to our team and he proved to be the missing piece. He contributed to two more titles for us. He’s been a great Laker.
AL: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Mr. Buss. It was an honor and we really enjoyed it. We hope you did too!
Buss: Yes I did, my pleasure. Thank you very much.
There you have it Laker Nation! Our exclusive interview with Jesse Buss, Lakers’ Scouting Coordinator and L.A. D-Fenders’ Director of Scouting. We hope to catch up with him again later in the year.