The Los Angeles Lakers have lost a legend.
Long-time majority owner and real estate magnate Dr. Jerry Buss has died at the age of 80. Buss bought the Lakers in 1979 and created a modern-day empire.
His teams hung an NBA Championship banner a record 10 times, which is seven more than any other owner. He was the architect who built the Showtime Lakers of the 80s, oversaw the Kobe-Shaq three-peat in the early 2000s and brought Pau Gasol to the Lakers for another two championships less than a decade later.
He is without question the greatest NBA owner of all time and makes a strong case for the greatest owner in sports history. Along with the Yankees’ former owner George Steinbrenner, Buss always did what it took to make his team the best. He never shied away from the biggest personalities or from opening up the checkbook to sign players and coaches like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Shaquille O’Neil, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and, of course, Kobe Bryant.
But now all of that is in the past. His death, along with the fact that the Lakers’ supposed “super team” is a meager 25-29 and the Clippers are turning into a powerhouse, confirm that the Lakers franchise is at a major turning point. Without the wise and omniscient leadership of Dr. Buss, where does one of the most beloved and recognizable franchises in the world go from here?
First of all, if the Lakers miraculously make the playoffs, the consensus is that they don’t have the tools or chemistry to consistently beat any one of the top teams in the Western Conference. They simply do not put together a consistent winning formula night in and night out.
Howard’s health and attitude seem to be in a constant state of uncertainty. Nash and Coach D’Antoni are torn between running a quick-paced offense and running a slower half-court offense. Kobe is still playing well, but is beginning to hint at retirement.
Above all else, this Lakers team no longer expects to win. When the Lakers are at their best, they expect to win every single game. Now the first question is how badly did they lose tonight?
Looking beyond this year, Bryant has one year left on his contract worth $30.4 million, Howard becomes a free agent after this season, Gasol has one year left on his contract worth $19.2 million, Metta World Peace has a player option for next year worth $7.7 million and Nash has two years remaining worth a combined $20 million.
All of that means that after next season, Nash will be the only current player under contract assuming Howard, Gasol and Bryant all leave. So, what do the Lakers need to do? What they always do, use the salary cap space to spend the money and use the L.A. lifestyle to bring championship players to their team.
One thing that would go a long way in helping the Lakers achieve that would be to retain the services of current General Manager Mitch Kupchak, who was Dr. Buss’ right-hand man. Kupchak is widely respected around the league and will help make the ownership transition from Dr. Buss to his children much smoother with his experience at handling the Lakers.