So the Dwightmare on Figueroa is finally over. Dwight Howard has insulted the Lakers and will be talking his talents and his sub-50% free throw percentage to Houston, a hot, humid city in Texas. Let’s face it folks; Dwight never fit in Los Angeles. He lacked the intensity required to play alongside Kobe, Pau and Metta. He did not respect their rings. His broad shoulders were unwilling or unable to carry the team when Kobe went down with a torn Achilles. Dwight Howard’s story will be written over time. He’ll have a chance to redeem himself in the 28 other NBA cities, but his legacy is already sealed in Los Angeles.
No player of his stature has ever walked away from the most storied and successful NBA franchise. Most players relish the bright lights and sunshine of L.A. coupled with the built-in increase in their Q Rating. But then Dwight has always been different. Drama has always followed Dwight around, fairly or not, like dust followed Pigpen from the Peanuts comics. His year in Southern California was no different.
So, where do the Lakers go from here? Question marks are legion for next season: A superstar on the mend, a coach who has yet to prove himself in the shadow of Phil Jackson. Sports reporters talk about teams “clearing cap space.” The Lakers, unfortunately, have cleared bench space. Howard’s gone, Earl Clarke, a sometimes bright spot from last season, will be braving the snow in Cleveland. Jamison and Duhon are not coming back. There’s the talk of using the amnesty clause on Metta World Peace. At the rate they’re going, the Lakers are a couple of turned ankles and a pulled hamstring from not being able to put a full team on the court.
Frankly, it’s put up or shut up time for Lakers’ ownership and basketball management. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, Jim and Mitch. How are you planning to dig your way out of this one?
The Lakers success of the past 33 years was engineered and driven by Dr. Jerry Buss. At the time of his death this past February, accolades were heaped on him from every direction. He was called the greatest owner not only in the NBA, but in all of professional sports. It was hard to argue with that, as we saw the 10 Larry O’Brien trophies lined up across the stage at his memorial service.
It dawned on me during that service that the next 33 years of the Lakers journey have almost no chance of being anywhere near as successful as the last 33 years. It’s just the way things work. Not to mention the new CBA. The league has changed and Jerry Buss is gone. It’s very likely no team will ever have a run like that again. Look at the reversal of fortunes at Apple since Steve Jobs left us. That’s what the next few years could look like.
As a Laker fan, I of course refuse to accept my own logic and believe that the winning tradition will continue. This summer will test that faith. Will Mitch be able to pull another Pau out of a hat and go to the finals three years in a arrow? We’ll see, likely through Twitter now.
The Lakers are, at the end of the day, a family-run business. They are more so today than when they were a Jerry Buss run business. Family-run businesses are tough to manage, tough for outsiders and very tough to replace a key executive that does not have the skills to do his or her job. Family-run is more important than successfully-run.
Which brings me to Jim Buss. Don’t know much about Jim himself, because he doesn’t say much. Media shy, I guess. Seems to have that silly baseball cap permanently attached to his head, indoors and out, an oddity for a 50-something-year-old man. But I do know this: I have little to no confidence in his decisions. He’s made a string of bad coaching decisions, from Rudy T., to Mike Brown and now to Mike D’Antoni. He supported Andrew Bynum way too long. He let long time Laker employees go during the lockout in 2011. And he has snubbed his nose at the greatest coach in NBA history.
So summer in Los Angeles once again has drama. This is a basketball town, pure and simple. Laker rumors, potential moves and analysis will dominate sports talk radio. Jim Buss needs to go one of two directions; either start making some good decisions and explain them to Laker fans as you go along or get out altogether and let someone else drive the Laker ship.
Personally, I’d start with sister Jeanie’s fiancé. I hear he knows a bit about this game.