Plan D12: Are Rockets bigger threat than Lakers?

ESPNDallas.com will compare the Mavericks, Lakers and Rockets in five facets -- other than money -- that could play a role in Dwight Howard's free agency decision in a one-per-day series: owners/front office, coaches, co-stars, supporting casts and franchise tradition. We focused on Chris Paul last week.

A strong argument can be made that glitzy Jerry Buss, who oversaw 10 of the Lakers’ titles, was the greatest owner in NBA history.

It remains to be seen how well Buss’ adult children can fill his shoes after his death in February.

Six Buss siblings share the family’s majority stake in the Lakers, but there are two power brokers. Jim Buss runs the basketball operations; Jeanie Buss is in charge of the business side.

The brother and sister certainly didn’t see eye to eye when the Lakers had to hire a coach following Mike Brown’s firing five games into the season. Jeanie Buss was reportedly stunned that Phil Jackson, the 11-time champion coach who happens to be her fiance, wasn’t hired after he expressed a strong interest in returning to the Lakers bench. Jim Buss opted for Mike D’Antoni, a decision that seemed worse with every “We want Phil!” chant at the Staples Center throughout the Lakers’ disappointing season.

The Lakers’ ownership situation, a strength for so many years, now has at least some sense of uncertainty, although it’s a safe bet that they continue spending as big as they see fit, especially with massive TV money coming. Mark Cuban is a sure thing, at least when it comes to being an owner with an intense dedication to basketball and winning.

General manager Mitch Kupchak remains in the role he has filled for more than a decade after being groomed by the legendary Jerry West. He’s one of the few GMs in the league who can match the Mavs’ brain trust when it comes to creativity.

The deal that brought Pau Gasol to L.A. – and essentially made the Lakers’ last two titles possible – resulted in so many grumbles around the league that it probably played a role in the infamous “basketball reasons” veto of the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

And, while the Steve Nash deal hasn’t paid dividends for the Lakers so far, it was pretty impressive for Kupchak to create it essentially out of thin air. The Lakers gave up two first-round picks, two second-rounders and the trade exception from the deal that shipped the basketball corpse of Lamar Odom to Dallas. Oh, and Kupchak also orchestrated the four-team deal to acquire Howard.

After July, Kupchak was the frontrunner for Executive of the Year. The Lakers’ mediocre season – maybe the most disappointing in NBA history, given the hype – messed that up, but the man has quite a track record as a GM.

Of course, the Cuban/Donnie Nelson combo has pulled off some pretty big blockbusters, too. Just not under this collective bargaining agreement.

In hindsight, a strong argument can be made that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey did the best job remodeling his team between the last two seasons.

Morey, an MIT-educated stats geek given leeway to do his job by relatively anonymous two-time championship owner Leslie Alexander, did a phenomenal job collecting assets and pouncing when James Harden became available.

Morey doesn’t have the skins on the wall that the Lakers’ and Mavs’ decision-makers do, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the brightest up-and-coming basketball minds.

EDGE: Mavs. There’s no threat of front office tug-of-wars in Dallas, and they’ve proven they can sustain success.