The Los Angeles Lakers on Monday lost their patriarch, Dr. Jerry Buss. Buss was long the symbol of stability for a franchise that has had its fair share of Hollywood drama throughout the years. Where will the Lakers go without his guiding presence? Here are six questions to be answered in the near future:
1. Will the team be up for sale?
In a word, no. While the Lakers were purchased by Buss for $67.5 million in 1979 and now are estimated to be worth $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, the Buss family does not plan to test the market. "We unanimously agree that we have no intention of ever selling the Lakers and intend to keep ownership of the team in our family for generations to come,” the Buss family said in a statement in January. Lakers minority owner Patrick Soon-Shiong could look to own a larger part of the team even if the Buss family doesn’t intend to sell, however.
Soon-Shiong owns a small percentage of the team after buying out Magic Johnson’s stake in the Lakers a couple of years ago. With the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) -- which owns approximately 30 percent of the Lakers, along with Staples Center -- up for sale, Soon-Shiong could grow his share of the team tremendously. The billionaire already has been linked to the sale. Soon-Shiong’s representative, Chuck Kenworthy, told the L.A. Times in September 2012 that Soon-Shiong “is keenly aware that AEG is in play” and is “interested.”
2. Who makes the decisions?
In the past several seasons, the Lakers have relied on a three-headed decision-making team of Buss; his son, Jim Buss, who is the team’s vice president of player personnel; and Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers’ general manager. But Jerry Buss had the final say. “If there’s a decision to be made that’s important to the franchise -- a player movement -- he’s the final hammer,” Jim Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com in April. “I’ll have a recommendation, Mitch might have a different recommendation, and we’ll just let him decide.”
The Lakers' upper management will have to decide whether and how to diversify the decision-making process now that Buss’ 34-year run at the helm is over. For a long time, all of the decisions were made by a four-man crew that also included assistant GM Ronnie Lester, who worked for the Lakers for more than 25 years before being let go right before the lockout in 2011. The Lakers since have promoted Glenn Carraro to help fill Lester’s role, but this could be a time for the team to consider adding another smart basketball mind or two to the mix to help continue steering the franchise in the right direction.
3. How has Jim Buss prepared himself for this moment?
Apart from dealing with the pain of losing his father, Jim Buss will be challenged to replicate the success the Lakers have accomplished over the past 30 years. “It’s like watching your kid grow up,” Jim Buss said about taking on more responsibility. “Somebody that you haven’t seen in a year comes in and all of the sudden says, ‘Holy crimminy! Look how tall they’ve gotten!’ I do this every day, so I don’t think it’s one day I walked out and started doing this [Buss flaps his arms] kind of thing. I think it’s so gradual that I really haven’t seen the growth that I have.
“Now, if I look back five years, yes, there’s a lot of responsibility and a lot more say and a lot more decision-making, but it wasn’t overnight. It’s been a long process. It’s a fun process, but it’s been a long process and a lot of teachers. So this year I think it’s coming to fruition because my dad has mentioned that I’m responsible now for the decisions. But really, I haven’t felt it. It seems like I do this all the time.”
Jim Buss was able to live in relative anonymity during his five-year apprenticeship, but now the moves of the franchise will come under even more scrutiny from a Lakers fan base that had complete trust in the father but is still forming its opinion of the son.
4. Will the Lakers' power structure stay the way it is?
Jim Buss seemingly was groomed to take over the basketball side of things after Jerry Buss died, and Jeanie Buss has worked as the executive vice president of business operations for more than a decade. It appears that will remain the same going forward.
Questions remain, however. Now that Jeanie Buss is engaged to Phil Jackson, her longtime companion and former Lakers coach, could the most accomplished championship coach in NBA history enter the picture again once he is officially part of the family? The relationship between Jim and Jeanie has sometimes been tense, according to multiple sources. Now that their father is gone, will everyone be content with the roles they have assumed before, or are there new options to be explored?
5. Are the Lakers going to have the same commitment to winning as before?
This is a big question for Lakers fans. Buss seemingly had the same mentality that they did, saying at his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2010: "There were times when I was in the locker room and I would be surrounded by five Hall of Famers. As a fan, you can't imagine how that feels." All fans want for their favorite teams are more titles, regardless of luxury-tax implications. Buss approached it the same way, always investing in his team rather than being satisfied with the revenue it generated for him.
"We are spending way too much money," Buss said with a chuckle in the summer before the 2010-11 season. "It's tough. You sit there and you say, 'We really can't afford this, we can't afford this and we can't afford this,' and then somehow the next day we end up spending some more money and getting another player and signing a new extension, etc., etc."
With the new collective bargaining agreement threatening punitive luxury-tax penalties and dipping into big-market team’s pockets through substantial revenue sharing, will the Lakers still operate under a “whatever it takes” credo?
6. How will this affect the Lakers players this season?
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace are the only members of the current team who were on the Lakers’ most recent championship squad in 2010. "He means everything to me," Bryant recently told USA Today. "He took a chance on a 17-year-old kid coming out of Philadelphia when nobody really saw that potential. He believed in me the entire way."
Could the loss of Buss be a rallying cry for the 25-29 Lakers in the final 28 games of the season, led by the memories of Bryant, Gasol and World Peace? Could the loss of Buss be something that spurs the Lakers back to dig deeper in pursuit of a return to glory?