Los Angeles Lakers: Has Jim Buss Finally Earned the Trust of Laker Nation?

William Van NollFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - MAY 31:  Jim Buss, executive vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, listens to Lakers new coach Mike Brown's speach during his introductory news conference at the team's training facility on May 31, 2011 in El Segundo, California. Brown replaced Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who retired at the end of this season.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

One year into the post-Phil Jackson era, we've learned quite a few things about Jim Buss, the man calling the shots for the Lakers organization. And much to our surprise, Buss deserves more credit than blame.

For eight years, Jim Buss has been cast in dark shadows since becoming the Lakers' Executive Vice President of Player Personnel.

Dangerous and dim-witted, we all thought, based on his isolation from the media and his aloof relationship with former coach and championship captain Phil Jackson. 

Once Jackson finally retired from the game in 2011, Jim Buss was given the keys to the Lakers' castle and took center stage of the family business, much to the chagrin of Laker fans everywhere.

His first priority was to clear the Lakers' locker room of Phil Jackson's influence.

That meant Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen—Jackson's coaching disciples—were not given extensions in the wake of Jackson's retirement, and new blood—former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown—was immediately brought in.

Results of the coaching shake-up are still under evaluation, but it's clear the Mike Brown hiring marked the beginning of the Jim Buss era in Los Angeles.

Once Brown settled in, Buss swung for the fences in a move that would make any father proud.

The Chris Paul trade—a deal that was agreed upon by the New Orleans Hornets and Lakers management before NBA overlord David Stern stepped in at the behest of small-market owners—was our first glimpse into the vision Jim Buss had for his organization.

Not clouded by prior success, Buss knew his team's limitations (youth, point guard position) and would stop at nothing to make his team better—even if it meant dealing locker room favorites Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to acquire a youthful superstar in the backcourt.

The NBA made a one-sided power play and, as they say, the rest is history.

Despite never receiving consummation, Buss' first major move was quite brilliant. Yet Buss still had a lot more in store from the new corner office in El Segundo.

Free agents Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy were all  brought in to start the 2011-12 season after the Chris Paul debacle to help strengthen the Lakers bench and address various team needs.

Suffice it to say, things just didn't work out for Buss' new additions.

But rather than sit by idly and have his name staked to the middling trio of Murphy, Kapono and McRoberts, Buss boldly pursued new moves of his own.

Bold midseason moves.

In March 2012, Buss acrimoniously showed the irreplaceable Derek Fisher the door, replaced him with 26-year-old Ramon Sessions and acquired young legs in big man Jordan Hill.

By shocking Laker Nation with major midseason moves, Buss showed that he understands the mortality of the current Lakers dynasty and that he'll do whatever it takes to give his core group the best shot at winning another championship.

Buss also showed he's willing to acknowledge his mistakes and rectify them, rather than stubbornly stand by poor decisions in the name of pride and politics.

Yes, Murphy and Kapono were bad pickups, but it's nice to know that after one year, they aren't wearing Laker uniforms anymore.

These two bench players weren't responsible for the Lakers' second-round exit in the 2012 playoffs, but it was up to Buss and Laker management to search for moves that ensured a second-round exit would not happen again.

Which brings us to the current offseason.

After being "very disappointed" in last year's playoff exit (via ESPN), Buss and the Lakers made headlines this summer by acquiring future Hall of Famer Steve Nash to revitalize the point guard position and two-time All-Star Antawn Jamison to help bolster the bench.

Truth be told, it took a lot of luck for Buss to land Nash (e.g. retaining the Lamar Odom trade exception, Steve Nash and Jordan Hill sharing the same agent, Nash wanting to move to Los Angeles, close to his kids).

But without Buss' insistence and willingness to rework his roster, these blockbuster moves may have never happened.

In fact, it was Jim Buss who urged Mitch Kupchak to contact Steve Nash's agent after Kupchak was doubtful they could even acquire the All-Star point guard from their bitter division rival Phoenix Suns.

Buss struck gold this offseason and, begrudgingly or not, he's worthy of a little recognition.

Even if he is still slightly awkward with the media and prefers to maintain a low profile as the ultimate decision-maker, Jim Buss deserves credit for his persistent activity as an owner during his first year at the helm.

His management style relies on expert opinions and delegates throughout the organization, rather than taking defiant stances of his own, and he plainly makes his decisions with the best interests of the Lakers—his family's fortune—at heart.

Buss' future moves will still be magnified with the same intense scrutiny as before, but his first year on the job has done well to allay many of the fears Laker fans had to start the summer of 2011.

While still not perfect, Jim Buss has proven he's not as bad as you may think.


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