作者| Bill Oram
校对| 小A & Jerry
Jeanie Buss doubled down on Rob Pelinka, who just blew it. So now what?
This is on Jeanie Buss. She was warned but refused to listen. With the embarrassments continuing to pile up, what more does she need to see before recognizing that the pals she has empowered to direct the franchise’s future are failing her?
A wasted year of LeBron James, a humiliating and destabilizing bid for Anthony Davis and now, in the latest blow, a coaching search that has seen the Lakers fail to land either of their two primary candidates. Tyronn Lue was the most recent casualty of the Lakers’ dysfunction, as Rob Pelinka couldn’t manage to negotiate a deal with perhaps the only person on earth who both knows how to coach LeBron James and was willing to do it again.
Where do the Lakers go from here? The obvious blueprint has not changed from a month ago when Magic Johnson bailed on the organization minutes before tipoff of the last game of the season. Buss should have hired a president of basketball operations to replace Johnson and allowed that person to hire his own general manager and conduct a full-scale coaching search, but she doubled down on Pelinka. And she continues to give Kobe Bryant’s former agent opportunities to prove he is better suited for this job than his reputation would suggest. As a result, the Lakers continue to suffer.
Mistakes tend to accrue compound interest.
The search for a replacement to Luke Walton has been a disaster, to say nothing of the lack of support that led the Lakers to part ways with Walton in the first place. Rather than cast a wide net in their coaching search, or flex their Laker muscles to try to pry a current head coach from another team,Pelinka and Co. honed in on Lue and Monty Williams, with Pelinka’s college teammate Juwan Howard and ex-Nets and Bucks coach Jason Kidd (more on him later) also receiving interviews.
The most deliberate thing Pelinka did in the coaching process was allow Phoenix to swoop in and make a large offer to Williams. That gave Pelinka the necessary protection to turn his attention to Lue (a maneuver as transparent as it was lame). In his latest New York Times mailbag, veteran scribe Marc Stein said those who supported Lue “ultimately deduced that there was only one way Lue could rise to the level of unanimous choice to succeed Walton — by waiting until Williams was no longer available.”
Was Pelinka really so cowardly that he was unwilling to stick his neck out and actually choose a coach? Is it really that difficult for the Lakers’ top basketball decision-maker to … make a decision?
Pelinka overplayed his hand when he had two candidates only to underplay it when he had one. No wonder Lue wasn’t feeling the love.
At no point in the process did the Lakers signal that they saw the one-time Lakers backup as more than a babysitter for the remainder of LeBron’s tenure. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Lakers offered a three-year, $18 million contract to line up with the remainder of James’ deal. While Lue no doubt pitched himself as the long-term solution for a franchise that is looking for its fifth coach since 2012, it doesn’t seem the Lakers viewed him that way.
They tried to foist Kidd on Lue as an assistant coach, rather than give him the latitude to assemble a staff of his choosing. That’s consistent with the end of Walton’s tenure when, among the issues that led to a breakdown between the sides, the front office preferred that Kurt Rambis be hired as an assistant coach.
Rambis and his wife Linda, a Jeanie confidante for nearly 40 years, have been front and center in the dysfunction, but no one bears more responsibility than Pelinka and the owner who has neglected to give him legitimate help.
In the wake of the Lue collapse, the Lakers are expected to reopen their search to include veteran NBA head coaches. Somebody should probably warn Mike Woodson, Frank Vogel and Lionel Hollins. Despite all of their experience, those new candidates will do nothing to galvanize the fanbase or inspire confidence in James who, lest we forget, is stuck here for at least another two years.
Wonder how that decision is sitting with him right about now. For all the talk of whether the Lakers should trade LeBron, the better question may be how much more ineptitude he will tolerate before demanding out.
No one cares more about the image of the Lakers than Buss. It should affect her deeply that, on her watch, the organization her father built into a powerhouse has been reduced to a laughingstock. It is not a conspiracy. It is not the media’s fault.
If she is not capable of making the decisions necessary to reverse that trend, then it may be time to consider whether she should step aside and let her younger brothers, Joey and Jesse Buss, take a crack at running the family business.
Jeanie Buss has had multiple chances to get it right since her father passed away six years ago. Time and time again, she has been presented with opportunities to reinvent the Lakers. Instead, she championed signing Kobe Bryant to a contract extension before he had even returned from a torn Achilles tendon and hired Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations.
Jeanie is the aspiring comic, but the Lakers continue to be the punchline.
Alas, opportunity, persistent as ever, is back! Knocking! This week’s embarrassment gives Jeanie a chance to right wrongs and set out to make the hires she should have made two years ago, and again last month. Opportunity is begging Jeanie to break from the mold of her own creation.
Maybe, just maybe, she will finally do it this time.