The Future is Female

Jeanie-Buss-1Don’t worry LakHer fans, this is not a political blog post. Instead, I will be covering something much less tumultuous: the legal battle between the Buss siblings. This week ESPN dropped an article detailing the drama around the Lakers’ ownership. Before you read any further, I highly recommend you go and read this article.

Last month it appeared that Jimmy retaliated against his firing by trying and stage a coup with his brother Johnny. In the moment, I was completely terrified. I was still celebrating Jeanie firing his ass, and then it appeared he was going to throw her out and take over control of the Lakers. I was not OK with that. In my darkest hour I was telling people that I would no longer be a Lakers fan if Jimmy won. I was prepared to shut down the blog and stop watching Lakers basketball. It was a dark time.

Ultimately, Jeanie emerged victorious. She maintained control and got Jimmy to resign from the board of trustees and replaced him with her ally. I sat there trying to figure out what the hell just happened. I read articles trying to dissect this trust, but most of these articles were focused on the sibling infighting. I didn’t care how much Jeanie and Jimmy hated each other. I cared about the legal issues/consequences of this fight. My interests were in the future of Lakers basketball and management. After the ESPN article came out, I consulted with my brother and official LakHer Blog legal correspondent, AW. He provided enough context that I think I now understand what happened, and hopefully can explain it to all of you.

Legal Battle Breakdown

Let’s first discuss the main issue at the heart of this legal battle: the trust (OK, so it turns out it isn’t a single trust but four nearly identical trusts which work together to form a sort of mega-trust, but for ease of reference I am going to refer to the four trusts in the post as a single trust). The organizational documents of the trust are not public, so all information previously known about the trust has been hearsay. Thanks to this drama, we now know a little bit more about how the Buss trust is set up, because certain information about the trust was included in certain publicly filed documents. According to Janie Buss, Dr. Buss set up the trust for his 6 children to go to the “last man standing.” Essentially, all 6 kids split the 66% of the Lakers, but as each child dies off, the rest of the siblings absorb the remaining share. Eventually there will be 1 child remaining and they will have all 66% of the Lakers ownership owned by the trust. This means that, at least theoretically, the trust immensely benefits the youngest child Joey, but is detrimental to the older siblings (Johnny and Jimmy).

When I first heard about this set up, I immediately thought of the princes in the movie Stardust. Just like in the movie, I believe this set up incentivizes siblings to murder each other.

 

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The future for the Buss siblings. (Screen grab from the movie Stardust)

There are a lot of pros and cons for setting up a trust like this, and I will focus on the impact for the Lakers later on in this blog. For now, let’s discuss why Jimmy and Johnny “tried” to overthrow Jeanie.

While the trust has 6 beneficiaries (all the Buss children) it has 3 trustees (Jeanie, Jimmy and Johnny), who actually administer and run the trust. Here is where things get a little soap opera like. According to various sources cited in the ESPN article linked to above, Jimmy and Johnny wanted Jeanie to agree to amend the trust. In particular, it is thought that they wanted to be able to access more cash from the trust than they are currently entitled to – Johnny so he could have a larger legacy for his children and Jimmy so he could pay for his expensive real-estate habit. We know it is possible for the trust to be amended if all three trustees agree to amend it, because the trust has been amended using this procedure several times already. However, it appears that Jeanie didn’t agree to these amendments. So, Jimmy and Johnny aggressively played a weak hand. While the trust requires the consensus of all 3 trustees to amend it, it only requires a majority to take most other actions. So Jimmy and Johnny used their combined majority vote to do something that most experts (and now a judge) agree is forbidden by the terms of the trust – they removed Jeanie from the board of directors of the Lakers, which would have prevented her from acting as the “controlling owner” of the Lakers. This was a calculated move, and it left Jeanie with 2 choices:

  1. Negotiate with her siblings and agree to some form of restructuring of the trust; or
  2. Take them to court and air the family dirty laundry

Jeanie took the badass approach and went with option number 2. She filed an action in court to prevent her brothers from removing her from the board of directors, and the judge quickly agreed and ordered the brothers to comply. She then went one step further, flexing her muscles and had her lawyer threaten to look into Jimmy’s finances. He is (allegedly) broke, and being “financially insolvent” can get you removed from the board of trustees. It worked. He resigned from the board, and she replaced him with her ally Janey. It was a boss move.

Future of the Lakers

After AW explained all of this to me, my first question was this: does that mean this is all over? The answer is a bit complicated.

In the short term, this fight is over. Janie is “Team Jeanie” so Johnny is outnumbered in staging any sort of coup. He needs either Janie or Jeanie to help him do anything. This appears to be unlikely. This means for the next 30-40 years (knock wood), the team will remain in Jeanie’s control. The issue now comes back to that “last man standing” trust. I told you we would be coming back to it.

Eventually Jeanie will die, (either of natural causes or murderous rage from a disgruntled sibling) and the shares will go to the last Buss standing. In all likelihood, that will be Joey. This means that unless Jeanie and her siblings restructure the trust in the future, the Lakers will be in the hands of Joey, and then his children. That scares me a bit. I do not want another incompetent Buss running my beloved Lakers. Jeanie has proven to be a badass and to put the team before her personal relationships. I am willing to role with her for a bit to see what she can do with this new team. I have less faith in Joey and his children.

This revelation terrified me, so I went back and read my very first blog post from 3 ½ years ago. I wrote that blog to give my brother hope for the Lakers. I discussed why I was hopeful for the future despite all the issues they were facing. I was pretty spot on with a lot of the issues. However, I got one thing very wrong: the Jimmy and Jeanie duo. I talked about putting family first and having a united front. I also called Jeanie a “glorified groupie.” I would like to take this moment to apologize to Jeanie for that comment. Her actions took some steal ovaries, and I am impressed. She put this organization before her relationship with her brother, and that is something I will not forget. Her brother definitely deserves what he got, but I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to go to war with him like that. Now that Jeanie has cleaned house and put in a new team, I think she will do great. I believe she will ensure the future of the Lakers and not make the mistake of allowing this team to fall into the wrong hands again (despite her father’s wishes). I can honestly say, I am more hopeful than ever.

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Ding Dong Jimmy’s Gone

magic-johnson-calls-out-jim-buss-just-say-you-made-mistakes-2015True LakHer fans will notice that I have somewhat recycled my blog post title, but it was too fitting not to reuse. After years of torture, Jeanie finally fired her brother and Mitch. When I wrote my blog earlier this month, I thought we would have to wait until this summer to see this moment. However, Jeanie realized we needed new blood to get us through the trade deadline. Kudos to her.

My jubilation is mostly focused on Jimmy, but Mitch has proven to have questionable judgment so I am glad he is gone too. The Lakers needed a clean slate with new management. This opinion was only amplified after Bleacher Report released this scathing article about Jim and Mitch. This article outlined all their questionable decisions, but the worst one by far was the Chris Paul trade. It was revealed that we could have traded Andrew Bynum for Chris Paul without Stern vetoing the trade. However, Jim Buss refused because of his obsession with Bynum. I didn’t think I could hate Jim more, until I read that piece.

Twenty four hours after this article was released, and Jeanie finaly made the right decision, even if it took her “too long.” Now our legendary Magic Johnson will replace Jim Buss (talk about twisting the knife). I am going to start off by being cautiously optimistic and also skeptical. I am not sure if Magic can flourish in this role. Ex-players have struggled in this role (Jerry West excluded). While putting this post together, he made is first trade with the Houston Rockets. They got Lou Williams, and we got Corey Brewer and a first round draft pick. My initial reaction wasn’t positive, but I will wait until after the trade deadline on Thursday. It appears that Magic wants to play the draft game and stockpile those assets, but I want to see the strategy behind this move before I commit to a position. Magic sold Jeanie on a vision and plan, something that Mitch and Jim clearly lacked, so I want to watch this play out over the next couple of days.

Also, while putting this blog together it appears that the Lakers are going to hire Rob Pelinka as the new GM. He is a famous agent for athletes, and represents our very own Kobe Bryant. I have mixed feelings about this move. On the one hand he has relationships with players all over the league. Additionally, he appears to have a high basketball IQ and business mind. These are key factors in assembling and recruiting a team. He has been on the other end of these trades for players before, so he knows a different angle. The biggest con for him is his lack of front office experience. He is an agent, not an exec. I see this being either a completely brilliant move, or one that will blow up in our faces. Again, I am choosing to be cautiously optimistic.

Until Thursday, I am choosing to focus on my joy. We are turning the page on this very dark chapter in Lakers history. We will not fix this team overnight, but Jeanie has finally untethered the Lakers from her incompetent brother. Now she can run this team the way she wants without worrying about his feelings. If Magic and Rob turn out to be busts, I do not think it will take her this long to fire them, or for me to criticize them.

Return of the Magic

Time is ticking, and Jim Buss should be worried. Rumors starting swirling after Magic Johnson met with Jeanie Buss on January 17th about the nature of their meeting. Reports came out that Jeanie was looking to Magic for advice on the direction on the Lakers. Fast forward 3 weeks later, and Magic is now an official adviser for the Lakers.

Magic has been one of the most outspoken critics of Jim Buss (present company included), so fans like me are interpreting this move as the beginning of the end for Jimmy. His self-imposed deadline is coming up, and I have always been curious to see if Jeanie would have the stones to follow through with it. Jim has insisted he has one more year left, but she disagrees. Bringing in Magic shows that Jeanie recognizes that changes need to be made, so why not start by bringing in one of the greatest (and most popular) Lakers in history.

We can argue all day long about who is the greatest Laker in history, but no one questions who is the most beloved. Magic has always loved the spotlight whereas Kobe and Kareem have attracted plenty of negative press and controversy over the years.

The past couple of summers have been miserable for attracting free agents. It would be easy to simply blame our poor roster, but free agents like LaMarcus Aldridge have spoken out about the poor presentations. It is no secret that players do not like Jim Buss, and that Mitch Kupchak is a bit socially awkward, whereas Magic oozes charisma while also being one of the most respected players in history. If he is running the show, the Lakers will suddenly regain some of their “Showtime” allure.

Magic says we are one star away from competing with Golden State or San Antonio (per his Instagram). I have to disagree, since they have multiple stars, and last I checked we had 0. Also we have the third worst record in the league, so that will take more than just 1 Carmelo Anthony to fix. For the record, I think we have some great building blocks. I love our young rookies, and they have shown some great promise. However, they are going through some serious growing pains, and we need more veterans to help shape them. If Magic thinks we can become a top team with just 1 star, then I look forward to seeing what he can do this summer. I will always have the utmost respect for Magic (as a player), but now that he is stepping into the role, I vow to hold him accountable like I do for Jim and Mitch. Buckle in LakHer fans, it is about to get exciting!

Let’s Get Ready for the New Season

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My dad and I at the game last year- April 3, 2016

After a 6 month long hiatus it is time for the Lakers to suit up for a new season! I am very excited to start watching them play again. Before I preview the new season, I must look back at our last game:

Kobe’s Last Game

At the time, I couldn’t bring myself to write a blog about it. I sat on the couch with tears streaming down my face as I watched Kobe put up 60 points for the last time. I went through all the stages of grief watching that game.

He single handedly won that match. He played 1 on 5, just like he did back in the mid 2000’s. It was pure domination, so I went through the denial phase. I began to think that maybe he didn’t need to retire, and that he still had it in him. Then I would see him panting on the bench. He was putting on a show, but he could barely breathe. It was time for him to walk away. Now I was angry, because I looked around at the players surrounding him and could not imagine any of them carrying this team the way he has. He has played this game almost my entire life. I cannot remember a time when Kobe didn’t suit up in the purple and gold. How could anyone else be the face of my team? Then I started think about the Lakers’ history. Before Kobe there was Magic, and before Magic there was Jerry, so surely there is someone out there that the Lakers will scoop up and turn into a superstar right? Then depression kicked in when I started to think about who was running this team. Jerry Buss wasn’t going to work with Jerry West to draft Magic, and then convince him into staying with LA instead of bolting for Detroit. Instead, all we have is the incompetent son, and a GM who’s best trade to date was Jerry West’ doing. I sat there, watching the game, and thinking about all of this before I finally came to acceptance. I realize that it might take years, before the Lakers are playing at a championship level, but we will eventually get there. The team wasn’t always owned by Jerry Buss, and we had great trades made by GM’s other than Jerry West. Eventually, the Buss kids will figure out how to run this team, or (more likely) will hand over the reins to someone who can.

It is still hard for me to think about Kobe being retired. When Shaq was traded, and they broke up the original championship team, I was very angry. However, they eventually brought in Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom which lead to a new era. Kobe has always been the constant, but I know it is time to look toward the new talent to carry the torch.

Looking Ahead

Yesterday we had some big news. Yi Jianlian asked to be released from the Lakers, and they obliged. I was disappointed that we signed him in the first place. If you do not know who I am talking about, he was the star on the Chinese team during the Olympics this summer. I didn’t want him on the Lakers because I think he lacks the work ethic. Apparently Yao Ming really wanted him to be his mentee, but Jianlian was unwilling to put in the work. I can happily say good riddance. Now let’s take a look at the rest of the players on this finalized roster.

D’Angelo Russell may have butted heads with Byron Scott, but he appears to love Luke Walton. Thus far, the players are responding to him well, so that is a good thing. Russell did seem to improve over the summer, but he still has a lot of work to do. The same goes for Julius Randall and Brandon Ingram. We have a very young team, so there are going to be growing pains. I know fans are really excited that the Lakers did well in the pre-season, but please remember that those games are not indicative of how a team will play in the regular season. Most teams only play their stars for a few minutes. Those games are for the rookies and new acquisitions.

Remember back in 2012 when the Lakers went 0-8 in the preseason? That was the summer when we got Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Fans couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t think much of it. People look back on that season and say it was terrible, and by Lakers standards it was. However, we made the playoffs in a competitive western conference. Granted, with that talent we should have done better, but Steve Nash went down in the beginning of the season, Kobe tore his Achilles, and then Dwight Howard was forced to lead the team while still coming back from a major back injury. All things considered, I think we did pretty damn good.

So, where does that leave us? Pretty much where we have been the last couple of seasons. I anticipate our young players improving substantially, but I still see us as a below .500 team, barring a major trade. Luke Walton is now our coach and leader, but this is going to take years, so let’s buckle in and play the long game. In the meantime, let’s enjoy our young, versatile, and athletic youngsters playing some Warrior style ball (with a ton of turnovers).

Phil Jackson Needs to Stop Talking

phil-jacksonWriting this blog is physically hurting me. I have admired Phil Jackson almost my entire life. He was the man who brought my Lakers out of the darkness (not once but twice) and brought back the winning culture. He won 5 NBA championships as a Lakers coach, so naturally I would defer to him on most issues.

However, lately he has lost his ZenMaster aura and instead has turned into an angry old man yelling at the young kids from his porch. I want to cry when I write that sentence, because it is the truth.

He has spent this post season, and now off season criticizing the top NBA teams and players. During the playoffs he regularly used Twitter to blast the Golden State Warriors. This was so petty, since everyone knew he was clearly upset that Steve Kerr decided to go to the Warriors instead of the Knicks. He trolled the Warriors when they went down 2-1 to the Grizzlies, but we all know how that turned out in the end…

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Additionally, Phil Jackson just did an interview with Bleacher Report discussing offensive schemes throughout the league (not just GSW), and felt he should call out LeBron and the Cavaliers. He said, “When I watch some of these playoff games, and I look at what’s being run out there, as what people call an offense, it’s really quite remarkable to see how far our game has fallen from a team game…Four guys stand around watching one guy dribble a basketball…I watch LeBron James, for example. He might [travel] every other time he catches the basketball if he’s off the ball. He catches the ball, moves both his feet. You see it happen all the time. There’s no structure, there’s no discipline, there’s no ‘How do we play this game’ type of attitude. And it goes all the way through the game. To the point where now guys don’t screen — they push guys off with their hands.”

Look, I don’t necessarily disagree that the one-on-five method is sustainable. Clearly LeBron couldn’t beat the Warriors by himself, but he did manage to get to the finals with minimal help.  Phil Jackson may not like it, but that is more than his lottery Knicks can say.

This is why Phil Jackson needs to stop talking. I don’t think it is classy to troll other teams, but if you are going to do it, then you better be able to back up your claims. Phil may have 13 rings, but he hasn’t won a Championship in 5 years. The league is evolving, and Jackson isn’t.

I spent 2 years blasting Jim Buss for not giving Phil Jackson control of our team, but now I am very grateful he doesn’t have that power. I never wanted Mitch Kupchak to lose his job, but I thought Phil would be a great asset in selecting players. However, he has proven in New York that he cannot win in the front office. While I will never condone the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, I can admit that Jim was correct in not giving Phil power over player decisions. If I am going to write tout my correct predictions, then I must also hold myself accountable when I get one wrong. Jim Buss, you get this one.

Follow up to Last Week’s Post

I have received a lot of positive comments in regards to last week’s post about the reports. I am glad that my fans enjoyed that topic. I would like to point out that I actually wrote that post because my dad asked me to cover it. I am always happy to take requests if you want to hear my take on a subject. Please leave me comments so I can cover the topics you want to hear about, otherwise I will keep picking them myself. Thanks!

Questioning Mitch Kupchak’s Judgment

Mitch-on-phoneThe other day I offered my opinions and analysis after the trade deadline, now it is Kupchak’s turn. I have to say that despite all the bad times the Lakers have experienced over the last few years, I have never once questioned Mitch’s vision or judgment, until now. Reading this Q&A has left some serious doubts in my head, so lets dive in and look at the highlights:

On Expectations for the Season:

“I’m not gonna cry about injuries, but we were hopeful certainly that Kobe and Julius Randle would be able to play the full season, and that would be fun. I thought Julius would make us into a 60-win team”

That quote tells me that Mitch may have become a bit delusional. First of all, Julius was struggling in the pre-season. There were serious doubts about him being able to make the transition into the NBA. We see a lot of great draft picks flounder in the NBA, and it looked like Julius might be one of them. Second of all, Kobe is 36 years old coming off back-to-back career ending injuries, so the fact that Mitch thought he could play a full season is ridiculous. Kobe had battled injuries for years and has needed to sit out games. However, lets enter this beautiful imagination land and assume all the best-case scenarios. Lets assume for a moment that both Kobe and Julius were able to play a full season. Lets also pretend that Kobe was playing at his all-star best, and that Julius was on the verge of winning “Rookie of the Year.” Even if all those things happened, they still wouldn’t be a 60 game winning team. It is incredibly difficult to win that many games, and it would be nearly impossible to do that in this current western conference, especially with the remaining supporting cast.

On Magic Johnson’s Criticism:

(Recap: Magic recently took more shots at Jimmy for not listening to Mitch)

“I didn’t see all of Earvin’s comments. I have the same authority that I had with Dr. Buss. Jerry West had the same authority with Dr. Buss, and I’ve got that same authority with Jimmy. Jimmy and I work very closely together, and he does not make decisions in a vacuum. For some reason, he gets a lot of the criticism, and maybe that just comes along with a transition from an owner like Dr. Buss, but that’s not fair. Any decision or anything that’s happened in the last two or three years that people have a problem with, I was involved or leading the way. So, if there’s criticism, then it should then be directed at me as well. He is not making decisions in a vacuum. He and I work very closely together. And quite frankly, if it gets to the point where he and I don’t agree, I think he would defer to me, which is pretty much what Dr. Buss would do, although from time to time, Dr. Buss would say, ‘Well Mitch…’ or ‘Well Jerry, I hear you, but we’re gonna do this.’ But most of the time, Dr. Buss and Jimmy would defer to the basketball person.”

Well I believe that statement is half true. I believe he has the exact same authority that he had under Jerry that he now has under Jimmy. I believe that Mitch is allowed to pursue trades and deals, but not take any action without the owner’s approval. However, I believe the next step/statement is where everything falls apart. I do believe that Jerry mostly listened to Mitch, but I believe that Jimmy has simply stuck his head in the sand. Why do I believe that? Because we saw amazing deals happen and adjustments happen under Jerry, but with Jimmy we have seen nothing but consistently bad ideas.

Remember when we drafted Andrew Bynum? That was when Jerry was grooming Jimmy to take over. Jimmy was the one who decided to draft Andrew; despite the fact that we knew he was going to have knee issues. Then for years Jimmy refused to allow any trade talks to revolve around him. Kobe hated Andrew Bynum, but Jimmy stuck to his guns despite Kobe even threatening to leave the Lakers. That’s right he was so stubborn we almost lost our super star over him. Then remember that Chris Paul trade that was vetoed? Notice how we were going to ship out Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, aka 2 out of our big 3, but Andrew Bynum was conveniently staying put? The only reason we ever got rid of Andrew was because Mitch was able to convince Jerry in a moment of lucidity to swap him for Dwight Howard. Publicly Jimmy said that he supported that decision, but there have been rampant rumors that there was fighting over this deal.

Another moment that showed his absolute stubbornness at the detriment of the team: picking D’Antoni or Phil Jackson. Publicly, he has blamed that decision on his dead father, and his own sister shut him up and said that their father was way too sick to be involved in that discussion. I believe Jeannie since Jerry passed away shortly after. It is known publicly that Jimmy doesn’t like Phil and is intimidated by his knowledge. Smart leaders surround themselves with smart people that will challenge them. Remember Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals” or JFK’s “Devils Advocate?” I remember listening to Charles Barkley criticize Michael Jordan as an owner because he went out to dinner with him before draft night, and realized that Michael had surrounded himself with all “Yes Men.” In the end the Bobcats ended up drafting Adam Morrison instead of Brandon Roy. Unfortunately, that appears to be what Jimmy wants too, despite what Mitch is saying publicly.

I do not blame Mitch for making those comments. The Lakers have an image problem and it doesn’t do him any good to throw his owner under the bus. That never works out for anyone (just ask Charlie Sheen). However, that will not stop people like Magic and me from pointing out the obvious.

Lakers Lacking in Trade Deadline Deals

My Dad and I enjoying a rare Lakers win on January 29th against the Bulls.

My Dad and I enjoying a rare Lakers win on January 29th against the Bulls.

Yesterday, as the clock struck noon in Los Angeles, our Lakers remained just as bad as they were at 11:59 am. This is because the Lakers failed to make a single move before the trade deadline. It amazes me that with so many teams putting players on the chopping block, we were unable to make a single trade.

Now you might be thinking, “The Lakers have no assets to trade, why would anyone make a deal with them?” While this is a good question (a question my father has asked me on multiple occasions) I will give you an answer. While we may not have a wide array of “good players” we do have a plethora of expiring contracts. Here are the list of players who will be free agents this summer: Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash, and Ronnie Price.

When teams make a trade they want at least one of the following: good player, draft pick, cut in salary cap, and or expiring contract to elevate the cap for the following year. So while we are lacking in the first 3 options, we were certainly able to give up some of our players. It is OK that we don’t have a good player or draft pick to go along with it, because as we have seen of late in the NBA, 3 team trades have become very popular. This is not surprising since with the new CBA agreement, it is very difficult to hit any sort of trifecta trade without bringing in additional teams.

Instead of engaging in a 3 team trade to gain some assets going into the very competitive free agency market. We decided to stick with the game plan of using the Lakers brand to lure in free agents. As I write this, I want to scream into my pillow.

On Tuesday night, I read that we were the front runners to get Goran Dragic. For some reason this kid wanted to come and play for the Lakers. Instead of pouncing on the opportunity, we let the Heat snag him. Granted, he is going to be a free agent this summer so we can still pursue him, but it will be a much harder sell after going to a team being run by Pat Riley. The Heat might be re-discovering themselves right now, but they will not be down for long. (Side note: I would like to wish a speedy recovery to Chris Bosh who is currently ill with blood clots.)

Unfortunately, the Lakers failed to make any productive changes to entice the free agents. Now it is time to sit back, watch the rest of the season unfold and see if my rants about the Lakers game plan make it into my “Throwback Thursday: I Told You So” blog.

P.S. This blog was a bit of a downer. So to cheer you up I wanted to share this article my friend Joel sent me. Enjoy!