By now you’ve read that Jerry Buss has said Kobe Bryant isn’t untouchable.
Most fans believed the front office spin they heard over the summer, that Kobe Bryant would not be traded. We even heard that teams were abstaining from making offers because the understanding around the league was that the Lakers would not deal Kobe.
Some fans figured that eventually Lakers management would consider trading Kobe simply because of his opt out clause at the end of next season.
Today’s article citing Jerry Buss’ take on this hashed and rehashed issue has most fans up in arms for one reason or another. The season is just underway and it appeared that Kobe decided months ago that he was committed to this season, win, lose, or draw. We haven’t heard or seen anything to suggest otherwise which makes Jerry’s comments all the more perplexing. However, Jerry Buss’ actions aren’t as curious when you consider the entire sequence of events and put them into context.
Jerry Buss had a tumultuous off-season. His golden child who sells out the Staples Center as well as road venues went on a tirade that essentially humiliated Dr. Buss. Simultaneously, Kobe was telling 570AM that no one from the Lakers organization was communicating with him. Later that same night, Dr. Buss was arrested for driving under the influence with a young lady sitting in the passenger seat as he drove the wrong way on the road.
Even the biggest optimist in the Lakers Nation had to face the reality that Jerry Buss and his Lakers front office was not what it once was.
In August of 2000, Jerry West, the most accomplished General Manager in the NBA, left the Los Angeles Lakers. There has been a lot speculation regarding why he left, but at the end of the day this happened under Dr. Buss’ watch. The Lakers had just won their first of three back-to-back titles and Jerry West packed it up and left.
The next two seasons were great times for the Nation, but the media kept reporting on the developing feud between Shaq and Kobe. The team’s greatest player, Shaquille O’Neal, grew more and more complacent and arrogant. The problems continued to swell larger than Shaq’s arthritic toe for four seasons until the problem was so enormous the team simply could not survive.
Though the Lakers enjoyed the coaching talents of Phil Jackson, the leadership in the organization itself could not manage all of the egos of three former champions. Dr. Buss effectively fired Phil Jackson, and the next day Shaq demanded out of Los Angeles. Jerry West’s missed leadership on the Lakers had lead to this very cold day.
While on vacation in Italy, Dr. Buss phoned Kobe, who had opted out of his contract to explore free agency, and promised Kobe that they would build a contender around Kobe. As part of his argument, Dr. Buss cited his long standing success rate in creating championship teams.
Meanwhile, the Lakers made the worst trade in team history sending Shaq to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant along with the draft rights that brought Jordan Farmar to the Lakers. For the next three seasons the Lakers would pay Brian Grant $15 million a year.
The next summer, without consulting their prized player, the Lakers traded Kobe’s training partner Caron Butler. That trade wound up being the second worst trade in team history, sending Kwame Brown to the Lakers for now All-Star Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins.
In two consecutive off-seasons, under the watch of Dr. Buss, the Lakers had traded away the greatest center in the game and then traded their best #2 for a total bust.
Since then, the Lakers haven’t made any sizable trades. Mitch Kupchak has taken most of the heat for the deplorable players that have played along side Kobe such as Smush Parker. After two seasons of excuses and a L.A. Times article by Mark Heisler citing a team insider who blamed Kobe for the Shaquille O’Neal trade, Kobe finally lost it.
We do not know all that happened behind the scenes up to that point nor after it. We do know that within a month after Kobe’s initial trade requests, he spoke with team officials and was committed to playing this season.
Recently, ESPN writer J.A. Adande suggested that Jerry Buss was content with having Mitch Kupchak as the GM of the Lakers because most fans blamed Mitch for the state of the team and not Dr. Buss himself. Within two days of these comments, Dr. Buss speaks to the media for the first time regarding Kobe and says he tried to tell Kobe that leaving 10 million adoring fans probably wouldn’t be a good thing to do and according to Jerry Buss, Kobe was left unpersuaded.
If Kobe was displeased with the direction of Lakers management, which is apparent in how the summer drama first unfolded with Kobe’s request that Jerry West return to the team, then what made Dr. Buss think that Kobe would decide losing was okay as long he had millions of fans? Further, with the dawn of a new season emerging and the fans happy to see Kobe and the Lakers returning, why would Jerry Buss bring this issue up in the media spotlight?
One thing is clear, the Lakers have not had the front office presence these past 7 years that they once had. The front office that was shrewd and calculating and brought us two dynasties is long gone. A front office that lacks the ability to keep its talent in some sort of state of equilibrium is no longer.
Shaquille O’Neal grew caustic under this front office. Kobe Bryant grew caustic over this past off-season as well. Kevin Garnett stated within the past two days that the Lakers front office was a major determinant as to why he did not come to Los Angeles. Effectively Garnett said there was no point in leaving bad management in Minnesota and coming into more poor management in Los Angeles.
Instead of waiting to see how the season unfolds, Dr. Buss chose to make an immediate issue of Kobe. Dr. Buss could have waited to see how the play of Andrew Bynum and Javaris Crittenton along with familiar floor leader Derek Fisher would affect the Lakers ability to win.
For Jerry Buss to sabotage the team, its fans, and its hopes of a winning season before the team ever gets off the runway, a person can only conclude the old man has truly lost it.
We know there’s a good possibility that the team will either trade Kobe next off season or that Kobe will opt out in two years, but to bring this issue up just as the season is getting underway is utter insanity, sort of like driving drunk on the wrong side of the road. However, it’s not that crazy if you consider the possibility that Dr. Buss is throwing out another red herring to make himself appear to be an innocent victim of two ungrateful superstars and thus, a responsible owner who has just been victim of arrogant basketball players.
Buss’ comments about Kobe are only laying the excuse he needs to continue in his losing ways and decisions without fear of fan backlash.