The Ghost of Jerry Buss



When the Lakers erect a statue of Jerry Buss in front of Staples Center next to those of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Chick Hearn, I expect Dr. Buss to be depicted with his right arm extended pointing to the future. Jerry Buss understood perfectly that the greatest bequest he could bestow upon his children when he died would be to point them in the right direction, to chart a clear course for them to follow, a vision of the style of basketball he wanted the Lakers to play and become their identity.  While Jim Buss is making the decisions, it’s the ghost of Dr. Jerry Buss who’s really calling the shots.

There is little question the Lakers’ are committed to fulfilling Dr. Buss’ vision and desire for a return to a fast paced style of play reminiscent of Showtime. Whether Mike D’Antoni stays or goes, the Lakers are not going to suddenly change course and hire a coach who runs a deliberate walk-it-up grind-it-out, half court style of basketball like Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, or Lionel Hollins. They would instead turn to a young coach like UConn’s Kevin Ollie, who runs an offense like D’Antoni’s. They want to build a team that plays an up-tempo run-and-gun style of offense combined with an aggressive pressing defense.

Lakers fans who think firing Mike D’Antoni is going to change whom the Lakers draft or whom they pursue in free agency are in for a surprise.  The Lakers may ultimately decide to change head coaches but that’s not going to deter them from pursuing Dr. Buss’ vision of Showtime 2.0.  They’re not going to bring back Kurt Rambis or Byron Scott to run the Triangle. They’re not going to stop shooting 3-pointers or favoring stretch 4’s over traditional  power forwards.  They’re not going to abandon their small ball style, although there will be a strong emphasis in the draft and free agency on landing players who also play defense.

The Lakers two main objectives in rebuilding the team are to find superstars and role players who (1) fit the pressure style of offense and defense they want to play and (2) match up well competitively with the key players on the teams the Lakers will have to go through to win a championship. Those will be the major objectives driving the decisions the Lakers make in the draft and free agency as the seek to replace their entire starting lineup, if not roster, over the next three years.  Four of the five new starters will likely come from our lottery pick this summer and three elite free agents signed over the next three summers.

With those objectives in mind, it’s easy to see why the reported order of the Lakers draft board has Andrew Wiggins #1, Joel Embiid #2, and Dante Exum #3.  Wiggins is a small forward with world class talent and athleticism who could be the Lakers answer to Kevin Durant and LeBron James.  Embiid is a young center who has been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon and who could develop into the Lakers next great center.  And Exum is a big combo guard who can play the 1 or 2 and could be the Lakers answer to who is going to run Showtime 2.0 and take on Paul, Parker, Westbrook and the other great point guards in the Wild West.

Seeking players who fit their style and match up well against their competition is also why the Lakers should not draft Jabari Parker, who doesn’t play defense; Marcus Smart, who can’t guard quicker players; Julius Randle, who is an undersized traditional power forward without 3-point shooting range; or Aaron Gordon, another traditional power forward who can’t spread the floor.  If the Lakers don’t win the lottery for one of the top three picks, they would be better off trading back and taking Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein or even trading the pick for a proven talented shot blocking center like the Bucks’ Larry Sanders.

I can easily imagine Dr. Buss sitting in heaven with Chick Hearn watching and laughing at the circus that has engulfed the Lakers since his death, knowing he left the franchise is capable hands with Jim and Mitch running the basketball side and Jeanie the business side.  You know the inveterate big game poker player in Jerry would be looking for the Lakers to make big, bold splashy moves like drafting Joel Embiid and signing Eric Bledsoe this summer, followed by Kevin Love next summer, to make the Lakers the perfect landing spot and ready-made championship team for small forwards Kevin Durant or LeBron James.