Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby JSM on Sun Oct 21, 2012 11:20 am

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register wrote: For Lakers fans who might disagree on or debate every little decision made with their favorite team, there has been one constant:

They would love for Jerry Buss to be the Lakers' owner forever.

That's one of the few moves Buss can't pull off as he winds down what has been a show-stealing career in sports ownership. So as far back as when Jerry West paced the Lakers' hallways, Buss has been grooming second son Jim to learn and take over.

These days, although it's Mitch Kupchak's basketball insight helping keep the Lakers at the top, Jim Buss is as close to in charge as anyone but his father ever has been. Jerry Buss, whose health problems kept him away from Staples Center and out of the team photo last season for the first time in 33 years, is still "the final hammer," according to Jim. The patriarch's days as the Lakers' visionary, however, are over.

Who is Jim Buss? Not the next Jerry Buss or Jerry West or Mitch Kupchak.

He is his own man with his own ways – preferring to analyze his way through a life that outsiders might assume has been fed to him via purple and golden spoon, figuring out which can of food was the best deal per ounce before anyone ever stuck it on those supermarket price labels, contributing to the Lakers' success with his statistical analysis that he summarizes with confidence: "I use a system that has proven to be right."

Buss, who turns 53 next month, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Register as the Lakers prepare for their latest run toward an NBA title.

"I've felt the last two years, we had a chance to win the championship," Buss said. "Adding two Hall of Famers, basically, to this squad? To me, you kind of erase that 'we're taking steps' idea. We're here. Do what we're supposed to do."

The Steve Nash and Dwight Howard bombshells after the 2011 home-run trade for Chris Paul barely sailed foul have reassured many fans that Buss is more than some case study in nepotism who still wears a baseball cap everywhere and Phil Jackson derided for sleeping in.

"It comes with not knowing me – and the uncertainty," Buss said. "Laker fans are passionate about the game. They want to know who's going to help lead this team to championships. And that's what I do: I help lead the team to championships."

Buss slips in those kinds of self-assured statements without pompous air. He mostly speaks matter-of-factly, devoid of drama. There is no traceable venom or bitterness toward those who've called him names in recent years when the Lakers have still, frankly, been winning.

"They were uneducated as to what I do," Buss said. "They just spoke without knowing. And basically I look at the people who judged me that way, and it's unfortunate and foolish. They should've known me first. But it was half my fault because I wasn't readily available to put those kinds of opinions to rest."

Buss won't ever be the carefree type to toss that cap skyward like some slaphappy schoolboy. But in recent years he has become more attentive to his reputation, more willing to explain himself through the media and more aware that it can even enrich his life to feel more tightly connected to Lakers Nation.

"I'm not a real public kind of guy," he said. "So to me it was natural just to do my job. I do regret not informing everybody of what I do, but that's only in hindsight."

Kobe Bryant always thought if he simply went about his business in the early 2000s, people would identify a bigger picture and figure out Shaquille O'Neal wasn't some big, blameless sweetheart. Bryant took a lot of bullets before he decided he should open himself up, strap on his own vest and stop hiding from confrontation and misunderstanding.

"That's exactly how I feel," Buss said. "Exactly."

There's a deeper Bryant similarity in that Buss never did allow that misunderstanding to plague him. He has come to spend far more of his time privately analyzing, computing and projecting basketball values than sweating public opinion.

"It doesn't really affect me as much as one might think," he said. "I feel that I do a very good job. I'm the harshest critic of myself. If I feel I'm doing the job properly and to the best of my ability, and as long as we're winning and winning championships, I think we're OK."

Here's the basic format at the highest level of the Lakers' front office, before Jerry Buss is asked for the final verdict on a player (which still sometimes might be a simple veto ending with: "Can't stand the guy," Jim said with a laugh):

"It's a collective effort on every step," Jim Buss said. "Mitch might have his own thoughts. He might make some phone calls to see if it's even possible. And he'll introduce it to me, and I'll say, 'Give me a day to work out some numbers and see if I think it's a fit.' Basically it's the value part I do.

"I'm not going to question if he likes a guy. Maybe I'd say, 'Mitch, by my numbers, the guy's a $3 million player. Right now, the market's dictating he's getting six. We just can't do it.' "

Buss said he more often defers to Kupchak's feel for team building, though.

"That's the area that is gray for me," Buss said. "Mitch is fantastic at saying, 'Well, he's a good player, but he doesn't fit our team.' Breaking down a player, you can do so much number-wise. But you need that extra 'does he fit?' "

Kupchak describes Buss as "a student of the game."

"We collaborate on everything," Kupchak said. "Like his dad, he has his opinions on players. Like his dad, he's good with numbers. And he's got his own way of looking at the game and how he evaluates players."

Buss' numbers system is constantly tweaked and updated, he said, with separate breakdowns of offense and defense. He mentioned a player's plus-minus statistic (team points gained or lost while on the court) as an example of something that requires refinement into five-man units and game-situation context.

"To me, a ridiculous stat is plus-minus," he said. "I think it's just useless. I needed to weed out and understand what affects the game of basketball. In the past five years, those applications of numbers came into play where I believe them. It took me years to believe they do have an effect."

Both Howard and Nash are renowned performers, but it's worth noting that Buss rates Nash among the top 10 guards in the game today. Buss said it might even be top five.

"The intangible with Steve Nash is he's a winner; he's dedicated," Buss said. "He's just a phenomenal facilitator. My numbers take that all into consideration. I'm not concerned about his defense, because he's the oil to make this whole thing run, and I think the guys will help out defensively. And I don't see as bad of defense as everybody talks about."

In the "Moneyball" sports-management era, when talent evaluation has evolved beyond scouts, Buss is taking advantage of his inherent analytical nature and meeting the needs of Lakers management with dot-com-stock timing.

Or maybe ol' wise man Jerry Buss is the one who actually timed it.

Joey Buss, the third son and president of the family-owned minor-league D-Fenders, looks at it this way: If everyone trusts his father on everything, why haven't they trusted his trust in Jim?

For Jim's birthdays, he used to go with his father to horse-racing handicapping tournaments. Joey said Jim, who spent nine years training thoroughbred racehorses before joining the Lakers' front office, is uncanny in his skill at handicapping – something their father noticed.

"That kind of statistical analysis and preparation should have some positive effects in his ability to pick players and determine basketball decisions," Joey said. "It's not a perfect one-to-one correlation, but I think people overlook the skills required to do what he did with the horses. I think they translate very well in some capacity with basketball."

Everyone agrees it was the right choice to put daughter Jeanie in charge of Lakers business operations. More time will tell better about one-time horse trainer Jim, but he has already made up considerable ground.

"I could never be compared to what my dad has done, that's for sure," Jim said of Jerry, now 78.

The majority ownership will stay in the family in the future, Jim said, no matter what happens with Philip Anschutz's 27 percent currently up for sale: "There's no question in my mind we want to continue."

And Kupchak is straightforward when it comes to who is representing Lakers ownership in basketball decisions already.

"He has gradually taken the place of his dad," Kupchak said. "It's almost been a complete transition, really."

Six years ago, Jerry Buss sat in his living room and said: "Slowly I would like to turn it over to Jim to see how effective my strategy is while I'm still alive – and still have time to correct it if I didn't do it right."

Asked about his father's feelings today – with two more NBA titles banked since then, the Lakers positioned so well for the coming two seasons and angling for a new free-agent superstar such as LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony to join Howard and Nash in 2014 – the emotion within Jim was palpable as he said: "I think he's relieved. If you had to put it in words, I think he's extremely happy with what the family is doing with the business that he built."

With father-son issues as common in this society as pick-and-roll plays in basketball, Jim Buss will acknowledge how much he cares if one person out there thinks highly of him and his work.

"It does feel good," he said. "It feels very good. Because you can read it without him saying."
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby therealdeal on Sun Oct 21, 2012 11:50 am

Nice little write up.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby lakersStan24 on Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:00 pm

Jim has done a good job so far
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Lakerjones on Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:11 pm

Credit where it's due. I think Jim's done a great job with personnel - evaluating and paying for the guys who make our team so excellent. Good stuff.

My one critique has to do with his coaching choices which have been awful IMO. I get that he hates Phil who goes out with Jeannie, but he's been striking out with the coaching hires.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby therealdeal on Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:27 pm

^ He's only had one season with coaching hires as far as I know and besides Brown, the assists were good by name. They may not have been great in practice, but he brought in some nice assistants.

This season I'd argue they did a great job. They brought in someone that has a system offense in Eddie Jordan and a savvy old veteran in Bickerstaff.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby JSM on Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:30 pm

^ He also hired Rudy T.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby KB24 on Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:27 pm

JSM wrote:^ He also hired Rudy T.


who was probably one of the best coaches available. I still remember his HORRIBLE offense which basically was either a Kobe ISO or a quick 3....

but he was a solid coach in Houston. People always forget what garbage players we had...Chucky, Tierre Brown, Jumaine Jones, Chris Mihm, Brian Grant, Kareem Rush, Luke, Goerge, Medvedenko...and probably some others too...but those guys were basically all we had next to Kobe, Lamar and Butler...and all 3 players got hurt at some point too....Lamar tore his labrum, Kobe sprained his ankle, Butler had knee issues...
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby therealdeal on Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:30 pm

Yeah I'm not as down on Rudy T as some but...

Let's say Jimmy has done a good job of finding assistants then, but his head coaching decisions leave a lot to be desired.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Lakerman JSJ on Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:30 pm

As one of the few people around these parts who DIDN'T rush to judgment on Jim, I'll just say...

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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Scnottaken on Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:40 pm

Lakerman JSJ wrote:As one of the few people around these parts who DIDN'T rush to judgment on Jim, I'll just say...

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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Magic Skywalker on Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:44 pm

While I didn't get to bash the guy as some other people, I do admit I was very critic of him, and didn't have much faith on him.

I am very happy to admit I was completely wrong about him.

But yeah, Mike Brown was one big mistake. Having Adelman now would be perfect, specially if we'll be playing Princeton offense.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Rooscooter on Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:47 pm

Wow...... what a difference a year makes..... someone should bump some of the JB threads from last year.....

I've always wanted to see if he'd spend money..... I was pretty confident that if he would, Mitch would to the right thing.....
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Lakerman JSJ on Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:48 pm

Scnottaken wrote:
Lakerman JSJ wrote:As one of the few people around these parts who DIDN'T rush to judgment on Jim, I'll just say...

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Yeah, but it looks so cool... :man1:
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Snake Eyes on Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:56 pm

Lakerman JSJ wrote:As one of the few people around these parts who DIDN'T rush to judgment on Jim, I'll just say...

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The only reason I didn't rush to judgement with Jim Buss is because I did with Mitch Kupchak. I was wrong to do that to Mitch and I learned my lesson. Jim Buss has done a pretty great job with the Lakers so far.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby revgen on Sun Oct 21, 2012 3:08 pm

My biggest issue with Jim Buss was the Mike Brown hire, which I still don't like.

I'm guessing it's not sitting well with him either, because he hired 2 ex head coaches as assistant coaches. Mike Brown is still on the payroll, so he's not going to criticize him publicly. But hiring to 2 ex head coaches who could possibly take his place if he doesn't deliver the goods sends the message pretty clearly, and I commend him for that.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Alcindor on Sun Oct 21, 2012 3:09 pm

It's a tough gig, a few bad decisions, we don't draft Bynum, we trade Pau for role players that don't pan out and of course Nash isn't coming over to that team and we're back to the 2005-2006 roster. He's had some of that Buss luck so far, hope it applies to the head coach position as well.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Weezy on Sun Oct 21, 2012 3:11 pm

That was a really good read. I have a ton more confidence in Jim Buss than I did last season. He hired Brown, he looked to be trying to cut costs from everything we were seeing in reports by getting Sessions, dumping Fisher, not using the TPE for Beasley, it looked bad to me. But, he's clearly shown he'll spend to win, getting Dwight, Nash, Jamison, Meeks, keeping Hill, and by putting it out there that he plans to be a big player in the 2014 free agent market. I'm still concerned about his coaching choice decisions, but it's small concern compared to knowing that he will spend to win. I believed he might be about rebuilding unlike his father, but he's shown to me he's not at all about rebuilding, putting together this stacked team and telling that he plans to get a new star in 2014 rather than starting over, I'm comforted by hearing that it's about championships to him. But, if Brown starts screwing things up this season, he better be fired, simple as that, if he does that he has my full confidence.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby kray28 on Sun Oct 21, 2012 4:07 pm

MIke Brown is here because of Jimmy.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby gcclaker on Sun Oct 21, 2012 9:59 pm

Buss admitted that fans are questioning him because he did not make himself available to be known so that there is some assurance of his competence. It is good to find out that he is addressing that.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby JGC on Mon Oct 22, 2012 7:47 am

therealdeal wrote:Yeah I'm not as down on Rudy T as some but...

Let's say Jimmy has done a good job of finding assistants then, but his head coaching decisions leave a lot to be desired.


To be fair ... every single coaching hire under Jimmy will be compared to Phil and so every single choice will leave a lot to be desired when compared to the best coach in NBA history.

I mean really, who has an impeccable record of selecting head coaches? He's had one questionable one in Rudy T although at the time I think everyone thought it was solid (not great, but solid). Then there is MB where the jury is still out although I would say it is not looking very good.

I think picking coaches is hard. Picking Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich now is easy. But to find the next Scott Brooks or Doc Rivers you have to give someone a chance that has never been a head coach before and we know how this board would react to that.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby 432J on Mon Oct 22, 2012 8:12 am

for the most part, i have no issue with any of the moves he's made EXCEPT of course hiring mike brown, which has turned out to be horrible like we all thought when he was hired in the first place. i dont get all the hate on the rudy t hire though. he was the best coach available at that time and had a proven track record in houston with 2 rings on his hand. brown has nowhere near the accomplishments that rudy t did and has proved that he's the one thing holding this team back
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby last stand on Mon Oct 22, 2012 8:16 am

Well I know I was attacked for my Jim buss support.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Lakerjones on Mon Oct 22, 2012 8:30 am

JSM wrote:^ He also hired Rudy T.


^^ Yes, that was my reference. Rudy T. himself is not a bad coach, I enjoyed seeing him coach the Rockets and of course he came up with that phenomenal quote - "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion" during their second championship. That's a sound byte for the ages.

No, what was unfortunate about that hire was twofold. One, was the way that Phil was unceremoniously chased out of town to make it happen. Jimmy was no fan of Phil's as has been widely documented through his public feud with him and Jeannie on the radio to accounts by Brian Shaw . . . As soon as that 04 season was done, the Buss' canned Phil in order to bring in Rudy T. Jimmy was buds with him and wanted to see a more uptempo, run and gun type offense. Needless to say for any of us who watched, it was a complete disaster. And Jimmy knew full well that Rudy T. had health problems so it wasn't even the hugest surprise when he quit mid-season.

So, yeah, I don't trust Jim Buss with coaching hires much given his track record. Yes, I do like it that he's brought in two other head coaches to help cover for Brown, but I would rather that he just cut his losses with Brown and let him go.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby GT-R on Mon Oct 22, 2012 4:27 pm

Lakerjones wrote:So, yeah, I don't trust Jim Buss with coaching hires much given his track record. Yes, I do like it that he's brought in two other head coaches to help cover for Brown, but I would rather that he just cut his losses with Brown and let him go.


Dr. Buss was the one who wanted an uptempo offense because he wanted to bring Showtime back. He was fine with the triangle because the team was successful and they were winning championship. Let's not blame Jim for that when it was his dad's decision. Dr. Buss was never a fan of the slow half court offense to begin with and was only okay with paying Phil a large contract because his team was winning championships.

But there is this one little discussed fact — owner Jerry Buss is not a huge fan of the triangle. He liked all the winning that came with Phil Jackson, but he preferred to watch a more entertaining “show time” transition offense.


It's easy to sit there and say cut your losses when its not your money. How would you feel if they fired Coach Brown, hired another coach, and raise ticket prices and merchandise prices to cover the cost of paying Brown and a new coach?

Let's give Brown at least one full regular season with one training camp before we throw him under the bus.

People forget that Rudy T and Brown were not his first choice. His first choice in both off-seasons were Coach K.
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Re: Ding: Lakers' Jim Buss isn't who you think he is

Postby Lakerjones on Tue Oct 23, 2012 8:56 am

GT-R wrote:
Lakerjones wrote:So, yeah, I don't trust Jim Buss with coaching hires much given his track record. Yes, I do like it that he's brought in two other head coaches to help cover for Brown, but I would rather that he just cut his losses with Brown and let him go.


Dr. Buss was the one who wanted an uptempo offense because he wanted to bring Showtime back. He was fine with the triangle because the team was successful and they were winning championship. Let's not blame Jim for that when it was his dad's decision. Dr. Buss was never a fan of the slow half court offense to begin with and was only okay with paying Phil a large contract because his team was winning championships.

But there is this one little discussed fact — owner Jerry Buss is not a huge fan of the triangle. He liked all the winning that came with Phil Jackson, but he preferred to watch a more entertaining “show time” transition offense.


It's easy to sit there and say cut your losses when its not your money. How would you feel if they fired Coach Brown, hired another coach, and raise ticket prices and merchandise prices to cover the cost of paying Brown and a new coach?

Let's give Brown at least one full regular season with one training camp before we throw him under the bus.

People forget that Rudy T and Brown were not his first choice. His first choice in both off-seasons were Coach K.


It's no secret that Jerry Buss wasn't a big fan of the triangle offense, but let's not start re-writing history here. Rudy T was in fact Jim Buss's hire, so he does deserve the blame for that one. Was Jerry on board with hiring Rudy T. over rehiring Phil? Yes, I never said he wasn't. But the hire itself was Jim's.

And let's remember that when Rudy T. bailed on us, it was Jerry Buss who re-hired Phil Jackson and kept him on for the next bunch of years - and he kept him here as long as Phil wanted to be our coach.

Coach K was definitely at the top of Kobe's list of coaches but there wasn't much of a chance of him leaving Duke, not even to coach here in LA. I remember them talking to him in '05, but he was not a legitimate candidate for us 2 years ago. I don't know where you're getting the info that he was the number one choice. The legitimate choices for head coach were Shaw, Adleman and then Brown. Dunleavy and Jeff Van Gundy were mentioned as possibilities but neither were interviewed. Coach K would have been complete pipe. He's made it clear for years that he's not leaving Duke.

I find it odd that you are getting sensitive about the idea of firing a coach. Of course it's not my money, but it's part of the business of basketball. If the coach isn't cutting it, he gets fired. That's part of the cost of the business if it happens. Here's news, it happens a lot. Even with Rudy T. who quit of his own accord, we still kept him on in the organization and paid him - not sure exactly at what price, but he was paid.

Raise ticket prices to pay for a new coach? What are you talking about? If Brown doesn't succeed I think he WILL get fired. The Lakers are bringing in plenty of money with their TWC contract - they don't need to freak out about the coach's contract if he isn't working out. Better coaches than Mike Brown have been canned (in fact wasn't Brown canned in Cleveland?) - and some have had much larger contracts such as Larry Brown.

I'm concerned about Brown, that's just how I feel. I don't think he's the right coach for this team. I never have. Last year confirmed that fact for me, but I wasn't a fan of his in Cleveland either. Do I think he's going to get fired mid-season this year? I doubt it, I'm sure he'll get his shot. But I'd feel better if we let him go and went with Jordan and Bickerstaff.
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