Lakers owner Jerry Buss changed the very image of NBA

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Jerry Buss may have been in a hospital bed more than a thousand miles away, but his fingerprints were all over NBA All-Star weekend in Houston. There were Alicia Keys and Ne-Yo performing their music, more celebrities than there were seats courtside, there were dancers and entertainers during timeouts and between quarters. And there was some good basketball on the court (well, for an All-Star Game).

Jerry Buss changed the NBA to look more like that. He was the first owner to really embrace that he was not just putting together a team, he was marketing basketball. He understood that the steak needed sizzle.

Buss passed away at the age of 80 on Monday morning.

Buss purchased the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 for $67 million (that price included the Fabulous Forum arena, the NHL’s Kings and a ranch). Forbes estimated the Lakers worth recently at just over $1 billion. So you can add “smart business man” to the list of things he did.

What many basketball fans will remember him for is winning — the Lakers won 10 NBA titles under his ownership and made it to the finals 13 times. They produced legends of the game such as Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, plus welcomed others such as Shaquille O’Neal. Under Buss’ watch the Lakers grew into the center of the Los Angeles sports universe, and one of the most recognized brands in all of sport.

But where Buss was truly an innovator was off the court.

Back in 1979 most NBA owners treated basketball as, well, basketball. You came to the game, there was nothing else. Buss understood what he had purchased was an entertainment enterprise that sold basketball. He bought the steak, what he needed to add was sizzle.

First in came the Laker Girls, the first dance team unit in the league. Next was Dancing Barry — a guy in top hat and tails who would dance through the crown during timeouts, which seems quaint now but was a revolution in entertainment back in the day. Soon music was being pumped through the arena during breaks. Nobody else was doing that, but Buss started putting on a show with basketball at the heart of it.

Buss made Lakers games the coolest place to be seen in L.A., and the celebrities flocked (and still do). Buss established the Forum Club so celebrities had a place to throw back a few cocktails (and plenty of drugs, if we’re going to be honest) before, after and during the game. When they left the club those celebrities sat in very visible courtside seats. Jerry Buss lived that lifestyle, too — he was always seen with a beautiful young woman on his arm. He was part of the scene.

None of it would have worked if the team stunk, but in the Lakers first draft after Buss bought the team they got the No. 1 pick and selected Magic Johnson. He and Buss were a perfect fit — Magic wanted to entertain and had a bigger-than-life personality on the court. It was Showtime and it was fun to watch — plus they won. A lot. It was a captivating era of the NBA that lifted the league out of a time in the 1970s when NBA finals games were taped delayed and shown at midnight.

“The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”

Mark Cuban has talked about what he did in Dallas to turn around what had been one of the worst franchises in the NBA was based in part on what Buss did. Today, every team — even the Boston Celtics — has dance teams. Every team pumps in the music in time outs.

Every team sells sizzle with the steak. And they can thank Dr. Buss for that.

Report: Boston nearing agreement to retain Marcus Smart

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When free agency began, a lot of us said that the restricted free agent market was going to be tough — not a lot of teams had cap space to start with, and those that did were not targeting players where the offer could be matched. Zach LaVine got a deal, but other name RFA were waiting, Clint Capela and Marcus Smart being the biggest names on the board.

We may be able to cross Smart off that list soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That is in the range of what the Celtics had wanted to pay him from the start, around $12 million a season.

Smart expected more — north of $17 million a season — and was frustrated that no offers sheets came in that would force the Celtics to match. He reportedly was “hurt and disgusted” that the Celtics didn’t come in and recruit him or make a larger offer. Welcome to a tight market, the Celtics had leverage.

Smart is one of the top defensive two guards in the league, a switchable defender who can guard any perimeter position, all of which fits with Brad Stevens’ defensive system. He also brings a high motor — he generates steals and gets to loose balls. Offensively he’s a liability — teams can help off him, daring him to shoot — but when healthy the Celtics have the players to cover that up.

This looks like it will get done and be a fair deal for both sides.

Kawhi Leonard may not want to play in Toronto, but he will. For now.

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The moment it was reported that Kawhi Leonard was being traded to Toronto for a package based around DeMar DeRozan,  a second theme followed:

Leonard did not like this.

Leonard and his uncle/management team had tried to force their way to Los Angeles — in Las Vegas for Summer League I heard rumors about him wanting to be with either the Lakers or Clippers, depending on the source. (As with everything around Kawhi’s inexperienced management, there was no clear voice or vision, so there were a lot of conflicting rumors.) L.A. never happened because the Lakers think he will sign with them next summer, so they did not throw their best players into a trade — Brandon Ingram, in particular — while the Clippers didn’t have the assets to get a deal done. The Raptors jumped into that breach.

This has led to online speculation that Leonard will sit out in Toronto, saying he is injured, and try to force another trade.

Don’t bet on it.

Why? Because if he doesn’t play next season, even the Lakers would be very hesitant to jump in with a max contract offer next summer.

Leonard played in just nine games last season due to a quadriceps tendon issue, something that dates back to the season before that (he just played through it then). There was disagreement between doctors (and the sides) about whether this was a muscle or tendon issue, but the injury was real.

Right now, teams do not know how well he has responded to treatment, outside of second-hand reports. The physical Leonard has to undergo to complete this trade will be interesting.

If Leonard sits out all or even much of another season with the same injury, how healthy he would ever be must come into question. Even the Lakers and other teams that want him would have to be cautious about a four-year, $140.6 million contract (the max they can offer) to a guy who had missed a lot of the last two seasons.

To get where he wants to go and get paid, Leonard has to get on the court and play well. He has to look like Kawhi Leonard again, or something close to it.

He knows that, so he will be on the court in a Raptors uniform. If only for a year.

 

Lonzo Ball had arthroscopic surgery on knee Tuesday, should be ready for training camp

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It’s done.

As expected, Lonzo Ball has had left knee surgery on Tuesday and is currently in recovery. He reportedly will be good to go by training camp in September.

Ball averaged 10.2 points and 7.2 assists per game last season and made the NBA All-Rookie second team. This summer he had been working hard on his conditioning and jumper before the injury.

Ball will be asked to push the pace (as he did last season) and be a secondary ball handler who can create shots when LeBron does not have the ball in his hands. They fit together better on the court than some people think (Lonzo did play off the ball some at UCLA), but the challenge for L.A.of teams helping off Lonzo to double/trap LeBron on the perimeter is real.

The Lakers also took a couple of shots across the bow of Ball — and his father LaVar — this summer. First there was the signing of Rajon Rondo, then Magic Johnson said this about Josh Hart at Summer League:

The message is clear, the days of soft-pedaling and catering to Ball are over. He must earn his starting job, and there are legit challengers for his minutes. At some point, if the balance of off-court distractions and on-court production gets out of alignment, Ball’s job and standing with the Lakers are not safe.

But for now, he just needs to get right before the season.

DeMar DeRozan expresses anger at trade to Spurs on Instagram

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DeMar DeRozan has been loyal to Toronto.

He embraced the city when former stars abandoned it and pushed their way out of town. In 2016, as a free agent, he didn’t even meet with another team, he had no intention of leaving. He said he wanted to go down as the greatest Raptor ever. A Los Angeles kid himself — born and raised in Compton — he never pushed to go home, instead becoming incredibly active in the community off the court as well as being a four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player on it. He has led the greatest run of Raptors basketball in franchise history.

The Raptors were not loyal to DeRozan — they are shipping him to Texas in a trade for Kawhi Leonard that is being finalized.

DeRozan reportedly hates the move and put this up as an Instagram story.

“Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”

It’s not the destination that has DeRozan unhappy, he did not want to be traded, period.

Leonard reportedly also is unhappy with the trade — he wanted to go home to Los Angeles. However, Lakers would not the players the Spurs wanted into a trade (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and more), and the Clippers do not have the assets to interest the Spurs in a trade. San Antonio was holding out for other bidders, biding their time, and in came Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri with an aggressive move.

Leonard’s inexperienced management team, which did not handle this situation well, wanted him in a major market that would boost Leonard’s marketing opportunities. While Toronto is a big market — sixth largest in the NBA, bigger than Philadelphia — and is the team of a nation with fans across Canada, this is not what Leonard’s people wanted. He is a free agent next summer in 2019.

DeRozan has every right to feel betrayed — next time you think of complaining about how players are not loyal to cities/teams/fans, remember this. Loyalty is a luxury in the NBA and one rarely rewarded.

DeRozan also will come around and embrace San Antonio, the Spurs culture, and Gregg Popovich. He will help them win a lot.

Whether the Raptors can win over Leonard becomes one of the NBA’s biggest storylines of 2018-19.