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Lakers biggest challenge: Adapting tradition to changing times

Aug 15, 2013, 1:01 PM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers Introduce Dwight Howard Getty Images

The legend, the tradition of the Lakers is not in question. In the past 14 years the Lakers have seven trips to the finals and five titles, and since the Buss family took over it is up to 10 titles. In the past 30 years they have simply been the best run, most successful franchise in the NBA — they had both the spending power to overpower the competition but they used it wisely.

But times, they are a changin’.

The newest Collective Bargaining Agreement was much more what middle and smaller market teams wanted — they tax on high spending teams is much more stiff, plus when you are over the tax apron your hands become much more tied on moves you can make. Many of those smaller teams have gotten smart with the use of analytics and they have become more formidable. The advance of social media, and NBA games that stream on your phone anywhere, are altering the marketing rules for players.

Can the Lakers adapt to that?

While we brought you the sexy quote out of a fantastic Ric Bucher piece for the Hollywood Reporter on the Lakers (Jim Buss saying Dwight Howard was never a Laker) that is not the thrust of the article.

Rather, it was about the challenges that face Jim and his sister Jeanie, as well s the rest of the Buss family, as they try to keep the Lakers on top in a new era.

But the Lakers need to acquire more than salary-cap room if they want to be in play for the league’s biggest superstars. “They’re living on the History channel,” says one free agent, meaning the team remains convinced that the attraction of playing for the Lakers in L.A. is enough. As one NBA agent notes: “The Lakers were built for a different era. Their personnel has been depleted and [research] infrastructure is outdated. It’s important to be in a major market, but not as important anymore. And they were always able to spend more than other teams. Now they can’t.” A longtime opposing assistant coach adds that free agents feel the Lakers’ track record is impressive but the team is not on the cutting edge when it comes to marketing, physical therapy or analytics. The sense is that institutional arrogance has caused a slow but evident decay. “It hurts to hear that,” says Jeanie, without contesting it.

The Lakers have one huge advantage — Los Angeles. It’s a place players want to be and it provides more marketing opportunities off the court for most players. Look at it this way: If you are an international brand like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James it may not matter where you play because you’ve risen above that level, but do you think there is a Cliff Paul/Chris Paul commercial series if he is still in New Orleans?

Plus, the Lakers will have only $11 million on the books for next season and are in position to chase big free agents. (It’s not that simple, but the Lakers have space to make moves.)

L.A. and tradition count for something, but if you get left behind as the game and how it is run moves forward you become the Oakland Raiders. Tradition can only take you so far.

Jim Buss has make some smart moves with the Lakers in his control, including the trade that sent the damaged goods of Andrew Bynum out and brought in Dwight Howard. That could have worked long term (injuries and the in-season radical coaching change killed the chances last season).

But Buss talks in Bucher’s article about being private, and that cost them with Howard. Kobe told Bucher about how twice (2004 and 2007) he considered leaving the Lakers but his personal relationship with and trust he had with Dr. Jerry Buss prevented the move. When Howard was looking to bolt, the Lakers simply didn’t have that kind of personal relationship to fall back on. There wasn’t any trust — Kobe believed Dr. Buss would build a winner around him again (and he did), Howard did not have that faith in Jim Buss.

That’s not about Howard not being a Laker, that’s on the Lakers. While times change on thing that doesn’t is the power of personal relationships — why do you think Tim Duncan is still a Spur?

The Buss family is smart (that includes Jim, people who deal with him will tell you that) but you can’t be so rooted in a “this is how we do things” mindset to not challenge your own notions. The world of basketball and the NBA is changing.

The Lakers have built-in advantages that no CBA can ever wipe out. As executives around the league — who are thoroughly enjoying watching the team struggle — and they say they expect the Lakers to bounce back.

The question is when. Because times are changing and we will have to see if the current Buss family can adapt to this brave new world.

  1. turdfurgerson68 - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Unless another Magic Johnson falls into their laps, this Laker era is going to resemble the 1973-79 Lakers…

    Sorry Kobe, no 6th ring for you.

    • money2long - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      when he had 3 rings..the saying was ‘no 4th for you kobe’
      when he got 4..the saying was ‘you cant do it again kobe’
      now that he has 5..the saying is ‘u won’t match jordan’

      keep talking, kobe will keep playing.

      • TheMorningStar - Sep 3, 2013 at 1:50 PM

        Im sure everyone will keep talking…Im 100% positive that Kobe will NEVER play in the NBA finala again.

        No 6th ring for Kobe.

    • beach305 - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:16 PM

      There is two ways to acquire talent in this league. Either you tank or you spend and the LA has been buying titles for decades.

      • jimeejohnson - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:25 PM

        Stupid comment of the day award. You can’t buy a title; you’ve got to earn it.

  2. bucrightoff - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Well yeah LA means more marketing, because players gotta make up the 15% or so difference in contract money they lose because California sucks for taxes. That’s going to be a massive issue going forward for not just the Lakers but all California teams. Florida and Texas have great weather like California, but no income tax. Unless you can get big marketing opportunities, I just don’t see many guys giving up $1.5 million for every $10 million earned on the contract to play in California.

    • asimonetti88 - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:44 PM

      LA is a global city. It is a media, business and financial hub, not just on a national level but a global level. In my opinion, you are underestimating the opportunities that brings. There is a ton of money to be made here if you are smart about it.

      • somekat - Aug 15, 2013 at 2:38 PM

        I think you are overestimating it, that’s why companies are leaving CA in droves.

        You aren’t going to get chances to earn there that you aren’t going to get in Miami, or NY, or Dallas, or Chicago, or Philly, etc etc etc. But you are going to pay more in taxes (the degree differs) than any of those cities

      • bucrightoff - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:17 PM

        I mean Kevin Durant is in freaking Oklahoma City and he has no end to his marketing possibilities. I think being in a major market helps, but being a great player matters more. Would Durant really big that much more marketed if he was in Seattle? I doubt it. Oh, and Washington State is also tax free, so yeah there’s that…

        Ultimately to play in LA is not just about the prestige of the Lakers and the beauty of Southern California anymore. Its a multi million dollar difference now for a high end free agent to sign there versus Texas or Florida. When you consider many athletes end up broke after they’re done playing, a few extra million means a lot (more money to blow through)

      • asimonetti88 - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:30 PM

        Kevin Durant is also one of the two best basketball players on the planet. He could play in Northern Alaska and be fine. But do you really think Blake Griffin would get as much attention as he does if he were in Charlotte or San Antonio or Portland as he does in Los Angeles?

      • bucrightoff - Aug 15, 2013 at 4:03 PM

        Absolutely Blake Griffin would. His claim to fame is his spectacular dunks. Dunks are going to be spectacular everywhere. People like high flying dunks. Whether he’s a Bobcat or a Clipper, it would be spectacular.

      • longtallsam - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM

        Two things are of utmost importance to be a marketing success as a player. Have great skills, and have a likeable personality. A bit of a flashy style does help, too. But take someone like Rasheed Wallace, even if he were even greater than he was as a player, that annoying personality would have always deterred his marketability. Even with Lebron, who seems generally very likeable, it took a while to overcome the “decision” fiasco.

  3. abchome - Aug 15, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    LA is certainly still very attractive to players, but the Lakers is no longer the only attractive NBA team in LA.

    • brookwell2013 - Aug 15, 2013 at 2:24 PM

      I just have no faith that Jim Buss has the ability to build a team like his father did. He is in an unenviable situation, following his dad (RIP Dr. Buss). The new CBA is simply hurting the ability of large market teams with deep pockets to do what they have historically done: spend big money for multiple max players. I guess we’ll see but again, I just can’t see a guy like Jim B duplicating his dad’s success.

      • zxrated - Aug 15, 2013 at 2:58 PM

        No one will ever duplicate what Dr. Buss did. That’s a given. Dr. Buss was great but he also had very good favor. Timing is very important in big business. Dr. Buss purchased the Lakers and Kings back in 79 for like 67 mil. He inherited Bill Sharman and Jerry West as his basketball mentors. He also inherited Kareem, Michael Cooper, Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes and the draft rights to Magic with a much friendlier CBA. How could he fail?

        Jimmy and Jeanie have no such luxuries. They are gonna have to forge their own identity as owners. Contrary to popular belief I have faith in Jimmy as a Laker fan. Jimmy couldn’t have grew up with all of those great men around him and not have learned something. Dr. Buss has only been gone for 6 months. Time will tell…

      • paleihe - Aug 16, 2013 at 11:50 AM

        zxrated: Totally agree with you.

        If Dr. Buss was a visionary, then he knew who would be best suited to run the Lakers. Whatever people say about Jim Buss, he’s tried to pull off some really good trades.

        CP3 (save millions, get young)
        Howard (get rid of Bynum and get the best center)
        Nash (better than Sessions/Fisher)

        Now, things haven’t panned out yet, but that doesn’t mean his attempts have been bad. The coaching situation, yeah…he blew that one. But, his efforts are certainly commendable.

  4. somekat - Aug 15, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Oh, Jim “Short” Buss. Your father you certainly are not

  5. beach305 - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Kobe is the cancer that cost LA Howard. He (Kobe) has a history of dissing his teammates. Rather However, Kobe’s fans dismiss this as just being competitive.

    When Kobe makes statement about needing to show Howard how to win, that just another way to say that he is a loser. Who want’s to play with a teammate like that.

    Gasol and Bynum didn’t have the stature of Shaq or Howard so they couldn’t challenge him.

    Mark my words, LA will not win another title until Kobe is retired.

    • thraiderskin - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:35 PM

      Mark your words? Shut up, Kobe won’t win another title because HE got old. The Lakers won’t win for awhile because they spent more time fighting evolution and now they can’t handle the environment. In fact, the stupid Lakers fans didn’t want the organization to adapt either. Remembered when Houston offered the kings ransom for Howard? You don’t think the Lakers could have gotten some of that by dangling Bynum? Kobe isn’t the problems, failure to adapt is.

    • asimonetti88 - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      Living in the Greater LA Area, I obviously read and hear more of his interviews than those out of the area, but Kobe is very supportive of his teammates in interviews.

      Please don’t act like Kobe was the only player Shaq did not get along with. He had falling outs with Penny Hardaway and Dwyane Wade as well. Shaq was a great player, very competitive, and could be tough to get along with. Both Kobe and Shaq were alpha personalities and sometimes that can be tough to mesh.

      They still were able to win three titles together.

    • pukpokito - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      The Best comment from this article. So true.

  6. herlies - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    Prokhorov laughs at LA’s classic bloated payroll.

    Hard cap please.

  7. lakerade - Aug 15, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    I love that Jeanie didn’t get caught up in defending the team against those accusations, from anonymous sources no less. It all sounds like haters piling on, and despite bucher’s best efforts to twist it into statements of fact about LA as a destination, it just sounds like desperate mind games and propaganda. Any player that dumb to deny themselves the positives of playing in LA (in regards to furthering a bball career, not any of the LA extra-curriculars, is a player we dont want here anyway. Yes, d11 included).

    • terrydehereftw - Aug 15, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      There’s absolutely a ton of positives playing in LA…ask Chris Paul.

  8. wtfruthinkn - Aug 15, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    The only shot the Lakers have is if Jimbo puts aside his ego and hands the reigns over to a true basketball mind, like Jerry West or Phil Jackson. Jim is not a basketball guy. He never played, coached or scouted (he was only part of the Lakers scouting team at one point, but only because daddy pulled some strings). Phil or Jerry could have kept Dwight, and then they could have attracted another big name next year. Jim blew it and us true Laker fans have to wait around for him to fail miserably (more than he already has) and miss the playoffs a few times before big changes in the front office happen…

  9. Sam Spade - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Second biggest challenge: Qualifying for the playoffs.

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:22 PM

      Dick Tracy,

  10. jimeejohnson - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    “The Lakers have one huge advantage — Los Angeles.”

    Two words: Dwight Howard.

  11. whereyaat - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:06 PM

    I think one thing that should’ve been mentioned is that they can still spend more than other teams, and are willing to go $100 million into the luxury tax when the circumstances are right. Most of the league is unwilling to do that.

    And if you think that playing in LA doesn’t give you an extra PR boost, ask yourself if you would know who Yasiel Puig is if he was playing for the Brewers.

  12. lhollis74 - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    The people that harp on the “losing money due to high taxes” fail to mention the proximity of Hollywood! Are producers still paying for guest appearances and bit parts on tv shows and the like? Idk, what’s Rick fox doing these days? I’ve even seen bench players in different spots. The only reason it’s not more frequent in cuz they’re having too much fun in the city of Los Angeles to be working extra

  13. pistolpete0903 - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    Here are a few reason why Lakers would always be among the elite.
    1) As long as they are able to sign (they never had good players in the draft) a superstar, they will sell tickets. The 2nd biggest media market and a huge fan base will ensure that.
    2) I have lived in LA for a few years, and LA is Laker town. They don’t have much competition from other sports (the cross town Clippers will have to win a few titles to even sniff the Lakers). The Dodgers and Kings are nowhere close to the Lakers in terms of oloowing
    3) It is in the best interest of NBA that Lakers remain relevant (you get the drift).
    4) Seeing how the Knicks are popular (even when they haven’t been good and they have to compete against NFL franchises as well as the historic Yankee) suggests that the Lakers will be fine.

  14. unsportsmenmic - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:35 AM

    Reblogged this on UnSportsMenMic.

  15. thomaskouns - Aug 16, 2013 at 2:27 AM

    Free agents have been saying ‘off the record’ for that last few years that they don’t want to play with K. Bryant. He’ll belittle them in the press and demand he get his shots irrespective if it helps the team. This isn’t publicized a lot because the NBA is marketed through its stars but as long as Kobe is there they’ll have problems recruiting top tier talent.

    • imakcds - Aug 17, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      The Perfectionist IS hard to play with, he demands perfection in return. And, knowing perfection is not likely, he demands you work at attaining it.
      If you are a warrior, Kobe’s got your back.
      Ask Pau. Metta. Lamar. D Fish.

  16. Carlos Freytes Jr. - Aug 16, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    First of all, the first paragraph of this article reads as though it was written by a 12-year old. I’m sure Kurt Helin is an able writer, but I would rewrite a paragraph like the first one if it were a facebook status update, let alone a piece for a professional website.

    The Lakers will be fine, in time. Right now, they are a victim to the violent shift in the NBA’s economic paradigm. They have Kobe’s thirty million-dollar contract, a relic of CBAs past, weighing them down at the neck. They weren’t built for an incremental luxury repeater tax. Frankly, I’m not sure why Oklahoma City was allowed to recoup some money from the league to help pay for the new CBA’s effect on Kevin Durant’s past-CBA contract, but the Lakers weren’t given tax exemptions for a contract they signed three or four years prior to the lockout and new CBA. Once Kobe’s contract expires and the Lakers’ salary situation more closely resembles the rest of the league, the Lakers will once again be able to exert their geographic and economic advantage on free agents. Until then, it’s a waiting game.

    Dwight Howard was an outlier. The situation surrounding his re-signing was a perfect storm for how not to keep a player. He was in a contract year when they traded for him, so it was all or nothing for one year in order to keep him. He never really got to play with the other four hall of famers at the same time, not long enough to build a rapport, at least. D’Antoni was hired after training camp and preseason, so installing a dramatically different offense than what was already there would prove to be difficult, even if there weren’t injuries. Add to that, Dwight Howard is of a different generation than his hall of fame counterparts, but not young enough as to defer to them. The connection just wasn’t there.

    Finally, I just don’t hold Dwight Howard in that high a regard. Yes, he may be the best center in the NBA, but he’s the worst best center in the NBA of all time. Think about it. Would you rather have Dwight or Shaq? Dight or Hakeem? Dwight or Kareem? Dwight or Moses? Dwight or Wilt? Dwight or Russell? Hell, throw in some “not the best but still great” centers. Dwight or Ewing? Dwight or Mourning? Dwight or Robinson? If this was 1994, Dwight Howard would be the 6th best center in the NBA, just above Dikembe Mutombo. That’s not even an all-star. Losing him is not the worst thing that’s ever happened.

  17. 1historian - Aug 16, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    Good piece, good comments. It’ll be interesting to see if the Buss kids can bring the Lakers back.

    The vaunted Celtics-Lakers rivalry is really going to heat up – albeit on a different stage – next summer when the FA season starts and with the 2014 draft. I think Danny Ainge is smarter than the Buss kids, IOW a better GM, and that will be the difference. With their trading of Melo they will be in a that much better a position for FAs and they can point to the fact that they have 9 #1 draft picks in the next 5 drafts.

    Full disclosure – I am a Celtics fan, and I hate L.A., specifically the Lakers – I can’t take the Clippers seriously. (Well said Pistolpete0903.)

  18. imakcds - Aug 17, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    LA is LA, and will always be a favored destination.
    Monte Ellis just stated how unhappy he was in Milwaukee.
    Most cities are like Milwaukee, not Los Angeles.

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