“The biggest problem they're going to have right now … you've got to get a guy like Jerry West to be the face of the team. ...
“You've got to have someone helping Jim. He's got to quit trying to prove a point to everybody that he can do it on his own, get his ego out of it, and just say, ‘Let me get someone beside me to help achieve the goals I want.' "
Johnson acknowledged that getting West to return would be difficult, but added that having an empowered person in the general manager's role is critical. “You need to get someone like Jerry to be the face, so agents are comfortable, players are comfortable, knowing the Lakers are going for a championship….
“If Pat Riley's not there, you don't get LeBron to buy in.”
Johnson said that current Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak is doing a good job. “Mitch is great,” he said, “but he doesn't have the power.”
Johnson also added, “Everybody's telling me free agents don't want to sign [with the Lakers]…. They're looking at the Lakers now as a team that's dysfunctional; who's their leader, who's the guy?”
Those are some pretty stinging words from a man who's forever linked with the franchise and spent seeral years as an executive with the team. Jim Buss has been nominally in charge for several yearsand took over formally last season after the passing of owner Jerry Buss. The young Buss has taken a significant amount of criticism for his decisions, starting with the 2011 move to not push to re-sign Phil Jackson after his contract exprired.
Since then he's hired and fired Mike Brown, hired Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson, traded for Dwight Howard and then lost him in free agency, and signed this rag-tag group that in part due to injuries, and in part due to them not being very good, is an awful 14-25, 1.5 games ahead of the last spot in the Western Conference.
It's also shocking because Johnson was so close with Buss' father, who drafted and signed him. Johnson is also on record as having partied with the elder Buss in the 80's. So for him to have these kind of comments for the son is kind of shocking.
But Johnson has a pretty good point. Dwight Howard's departure is a sign that the Lakers are no longer above everyone else in the league. And the decisions Jim Buss have made have never been unquestionably good. He has a huge legacy to take care of, and he's drawing fire from everyone, even those whose statues stand outside his building.