After the 2013-14 season, Jim Buss made a bold proclamation: He’d resign as Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations if they weren’t “contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship … in three to four years.”
But instead of providing clarity about his job status, Buss’ pledge has only spurred questions.
What does “contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship” mean? She’s said at least second round. He’s being far more elusive.
It’s a pledge that might prove to be Jim Buss’ undoing. Reached by the Southern California News Group last week, he said he “wasn’t referring to a certain playoff position” and that the deadline “really wasn’t as clear as people say it is.”
“This was quotes from three or four years ago,” he said. “Those were what the path was supposed to be.”
Jim Buss said injuries and the Kobe Bryant farewell tour derailed what her were otherwise reasonable expectations. He now believes in a different measuring stick.
“If I feel that the strides have been made,” Jim Buss said, “and the team is going in a very positive – not just a positive direction – a very positive direction, I don’t see a switch happening.”
The two most prominent Buss siblings agree that the season needs to play out before any decisions can be reached.
“We’re like every other team that we will play a season and we will assess that season when it’s over,” Jeanie Buss said. “No reason to speculate on any possible changes. It’s a waste of time to speculate.”
He said he and his sister will sit down at the end of the season, like any other year, and evaluate.
“It’s hard to comment on something that hasn’t even happened yet,” he said. “We’re assuming that the Lakers will not be in a position for me to stay confident about me staying in that position. You’re trying to predict where we’re going to be. If we end up being the worst bottom three teams, I can say you’re right. But I don’t think we are.”
If the Lakers show progress, Buss said, and “the coach is happy with everything the front office is doing,” he does not expect he will be going anywhere. With those caveats, Buss reinforced his earlier point: “I think it would be a big mistake on the Lakers’ part to make any switches.”
Is Jim really suggesting that the bar should be not finishing in the NBA’s bottom three? In that case, the Lakers – “just” the league’s seventh-worst team – are in good shape.
And that is progress. At 11-22, they’re on pace for their best record four years.
They’re also 11-22.
No matter how much new coach Luke Walton has refreshed the environment and connected with management, no matter how bright the young core is, the Lakers are still bad right now. That’s difficult to overlook considering how much Jim’s talk and numerous transactions indicated a a quick turnaround attempt. Unless his private plan differed, that doesn’t bode well for Jim’s ability to lead this franchise forward. I wouldn’t entrust an executive who backed into a quality solution only because his primary plan flopped so badly.
D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Brandon Ingram are excellent young building blocks. The Lakers are in a much better place than they were a few years ago, and Jim deserves some credit for drafting well once the team stumbled on the court.
But the stated goal wasn’t improving the franchise’s position. It was a quick turnaround to conference-title contention – and, at that, Jim failed miserably.
So, now he’s trying to move the goalposts. Ultimately, Jeanie must decide whether she’ll let him.