State of the Lakers: Dr. Jerry Buss and Jim Buss
Early in or before each basketball season, Dr. Jerry Buss sits down for a chat with the six beat reporters covering the Lakers daily, which this season occurred prior to Sunday evening’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Dr. Buss was joined by his son, Executive Vice President, Player Personnel Jim Buss, in a 30-minute interview encompassing a wide variety of topics including the status of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, the team’s league-high payroll, the reasons behind the Ron Artest acquisition and more.
Following is a full transcript of the interview:
On the status of Kobe Bryant's potential extension:
Dr. Buss: We're not going to comment on his extension. He prefers it that way and we respect it.
On if he sees Phil Jackson as his coach beyond this season:
Dr. Buss: He likes to wait until he sees physically how he is at the end of the season, so, he doesn't know and I don't know whether he will or not. He is welcome … He (last season) did and has always done a marvelous job.
On if he and Jim Buss have talked about potential candidates to replace Jackson:
Dr. Buss: The problem is you really don't know who's available. There (is) a group of people who I have a special fondness for, and for obvious reasons, I'll leave that unsaid. But Jimmy and I talk that over quite often, actually.
On if he still believes Jackson can coach the Lakers for many more years, as he intimated prior to last season:
Dr. Buss: I think he's healthier than he was. He was on his motorcycle this summer. That's always a good sign.
On how he feels about having the league's biggest payroll:
Dr. Buss: It doesn't thrill me. I don't like to be singled out for that particular purpose. But, I feel in this situation it was necessary. When it's necessary we're going to do that.
Jim Buss: And it's spent wisely. There (are) not bad contracts. So even though it's the highest payroll, it’s a good payroll.
On if they thought re-signing Lamar Odom was crucial:
Dr. Buss: Everything considered - possible injuries, etc. - and the fact that he's such a versatile player, we thought it was necessary.
On Andrew Bynum’s performance:
Dr. Buss: We are (pleased). When we watch him moving around, that’s a real joyful sight.
On keeping the title-winning team together:
Dr. Buss: We want to win as many championships as we possibly can. We’re still a few shy of our rival * My son Joey, when he picked up the trophy, he announced clear-cut our rival. It’s kind of obvious our whole family feels that way.
*Dr. Buss chose not to refer to the Boston Celtics by name.
On losing to Boston in the 2007-08 NBA Finals and in the past:
Dr. Buss: That’s very painful. Actually I’ve been reading Magic (Johnson’s) book lately, and just revisiting the loss before many years ago. It doesn’t go away. The pain just sticks out. You think, ‘Why did we do this, why did we do that.’ … I don’t know how many people are left that went through the excruciating pain that Jerry West and everybody (did) being beat by the Celtics way back when, but if you were a Laker fan and to get to the Finals that many times … he has never forgotten it, and I never have. Probably the most delightful moment since I had the team was when we beat them in the sixth game on their own home floor*, that was probably the only cigar I ever smoked.
* To conclude the 1984-85 season.
On Kobe Bryant’s ascension after leading the team to the 2008-09 title:
Dr. Buss: Kobe gets better and better every year. It's going to be interesting to see how long that continues. The man is a marvel. I think he was already in Laker Lore before that; he has the rings to prove it, but certainly that was a very big milestone in his career … I guess the remarkable thing about Kobe is he continues to want to improve, and spends all his time making that effort. And he accomplishes that. He does improve.
On signing Ron Artest:
Jim Buss: Pretty much all our efforts are talked about between three or four of us. I was maybe a little bit harder pushing towards Ron Artest, my dad likes him a lot too. I think when (Trevor) Ariza kind of balked at our offer, that really kind of set the wheels in motion. You want to keep the team intact (after a championship), but I think Artest is an incredible defender and a perfect fit for this team. I think we improved … He enjoys locking down top-quality players on the other team. He enjoys it. It’s hard to find those kind of guys. He looks forward to going against Carmelo Anthony; he looks forward to going against LeBron (James). Not too many people say that. He was impressive to me when we sat down and talked to him.
On the coming Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions:
Dr. Buss: It’s kind of hard to predict. I really don’t like to discuss it; obviously the intent is to avoid any kind of conflict, somehow to get everybody happy. But at the end of every CBA contract, it’s been a difficult thing to get the next one signed. I’m hoping (NBA Commissioner David) Stern can do it again.
On why he did not go to the title-clinching game in Orlando:
Dr. Buss: I’m getting a little older, during something like that I become very animated and sometimes use questionable language. In this particular case, I thought it was going to be a very tough tussle, and I wanted to be free to jump up and down and scream and kick things. I talked Jimmy into staying with me and I had Jeanie (Buss) with me. It became quite a family affair in our room where we could all shout and holler without making a spectacle of ourselves.
On Derek Fisher’s three-pointers in Game 4:
Dr. Buss: That was unbelievable. Fisher is Mr. Clutch, another one just like Jerry West. Robert Horry … those are the memorable shots.
On how Dr. Buss is handing off responsibility to his kids:
Dr. Buss: Jeanie's had the business responsibility for some time now. Jimmy, I would say started at about 10 percent or 20 percent many years ago and has gained about 10 percent a year. I think he's up around 90-something now.
On General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s success:
Dr. Buss: Mitch is a superb general manager, and we work very well together. We're probably more active with our general manager than the typical owner and it really makes it nice to have Mitch for so many years for the continuity associated with that. We stand behind him and continue to do so.
On if Dr. Buss has concerns about players playing internationally, particularly after Pau Gasol’s injuries:
Dr. Buss: It does, but I don't think in these cases you can be too selfish. He wanted to represent Spain and I think he's entitled to that. It would be nice if there was more time in between so that he wasn't overworked, which he apparently was. The international players have done a great deal for our game, and if that requires them to play for their countries, so be it.
On keeping the team together.
Dr. Buss: We had a lot of faith in last year’s team that lost in the Finals. Pau came in here in February, and we felt that by playing a whole year, we would improve and we seem to have.
On his feelings about the new season:
Dr. Buss: Like all gamblers, we feel like we're on a run. Jim Buss: I think we're a better team than we were last year. We won it last year, that goes to say we should win it this year.
On if Shaquille O'Neal's parting with other teams on not the best of terms sheds any light on his departure from the Lakers.
Dr. Buss: You know I never felt any animosity. That's not why he was traded. It was just because I felt that if we resigned him to a long-term contract, we were not going to be free to win as much as we'd hoped. I liked Shaq. A lot of people think I traded him because I was miffed or something like that. That's not true. When he ran down the floor and said 'Show me the money,' I thought it was funny. I thought it was a joke. I didn't have any problems with that. It was just a pure basketball decision … I think (his comments after being traded) were unnecessary and I’ll try to avoid doing the same thing.
On the championship or bust frame of mind:
Dr. Buss: It would be hard to say it's a successful season unless we win. We’re a mature team, and our goal is to win it this year. The mark of success is that we win it.
On having the league’s best record, by far, since Dr. Buss bought the team.
Dr. Buss: We’ve had a lot of interesting people on the team. We’ve had the Kobe’s, and the Magic’s, and the Shaq’s, Kareem’s and West’s. There’s been a lot of star power. Wilt Chamberlain and everybody. Part of it is that we’ve been fortunate in having a lot of legendary (players). I think that’s part of it, certainly winning has done it as well. Teams that win a lot like the Yankees, Lakers, Pittsburgh and Dallas in football, they transcend and we hope to remain one of them.
On free agents wanting to play for the Lakers:
Dr. Buss: I suppose that’s part of it. I think that had to do with when Shaq came, but in Kobe’s case, Magic’s case, Worthy’s case we drafted them. Kareem came after (his career) started, and I suppose that was one reason and his success at UCLA probably. I think it’s some of (that), Los Angeles and star power, and some of which is the winning and that aspect of it.
On what Jim Buss sees for the team in the future:
Jim Buss: I like our team. I think we improved with Artest, and if we can, if we win it again, I’ll look to raise the bar even that much more. I’m not one that sits pat on a win, you want to improve because the other teams, that’s all they’re doing, basically improving to beat you. So if we can just stay one step ahead of the competition, that’s how you (win).
On the team’s payroll:
Jim Buss: It's (money) well-spent. We don't like that, that it’s that high. If we happen to get some bargains ... I think Artest is a bargain. As long as it's well-spent, (Dr. Buss) is fine with it. It would be great if we could spend 60 million instead of 90 million, but to maintain that team it would be pretty tough to do. Dr. Buss: I think (winning) has to be (the most important thing). If we could find a way to save some money and stay at the level of competition we're at, obviously we'll try to do that. But I think in this particular case, all the dollars were well-spent and necessarily so. Nobody likes this. I'd rather take the 30 or 40 million and put it in my pocket. Just look at my jeans. You think I don't have a big payroll? If it's necessary, we're going to do it. That's just the way it is. We kind of stare at each other and gulp, but that's the way it is.
On if the payroll will stay this high in the coming years:
Dr. Buss: In a lot of ways I think we may be frozen there for some time. I don't see too many changes, not in the immediate future anyway, I can visualize maybe six or eight years down the stream.
On if having superior length as the Lakers now do was part of the plan on the personnel side:
Jim Buss: Absolutely, 100 percent. I even sat with Phil (Jackson) one time and said, ‘What if you had all seven-footers?’ I was trying to figure out how that would work – Lamar (Odom) being a seven footer at the point. But I’m very much into the bigs. I like big players, tall players, it seems that you can always have a matchup problem, and so far it’s worked.
On Kobe Bryant’s post game:
Jim Buss: I thought this year was going to be one of Kobe’s best because of that. Getting Artest, there is no double team. Now he can post up … you have Gasol and Bynum down there. I’m enjoying what I’m seeing quite a bit.