The Los Angeles Lakers have experienced a radical decline. It will take a radical solution to turn around the organization's fortunes: a return to the past.
That means a Buss family member -- the right Buss family member -- must fully and forcefully take charge of the organization, including its basketball operations, without further delay or queasiness.
Talking to you, Jeanie Buss.
They have already hired the right head coach -- but they must do more. Luke Walton has great potential, but he must work in an organization fully in harmony and synchronized around a shared partnership among himself, the front office and the owner responsible for the final say and blame for this organization's fortunes. Talent doesn't matter if it's not properly nurtured.
Still talking to you, Jeanie Buss.
And the Lakers must go back to the past by remembering that, when Dr. Jerry Buss turned the purple and gold into the colors of a new kind of greatness, he did it in part by never losing track of the fact that true Lakers greats needed to be family, and consigliere, for life. That means the recently publicized get-togethers between Jeanie Buss and Magic Johnson need to harken to the return of Magic, or someone like him, to play a critical role in bridging the Lakers' past to what it can become again.
All of this means Jim Buss, currently in charge of basketball operations, has to go. This week. Today. Yesterday, really. And a former Lakers great needs to step in, in the appropriate role depending on the person, and help Jeanie turn this thing around.
Jim Buss put himself in this very position, and not just by saying that this season's success (or, as it turns out, the opposite) would determine his fate. But it's up to his sister Jeanie to fire her own brother. She has been vocal in the past that she would hold him to his own standards, but her recent silence has been noticeable. And troubling.
Jeanie is also now on the hook, and indecisiveness will undercut her remarkable promise as an owner and the true heir to her father's legacy. She has final authority and yet, incredibly, the front office and her brother Jim felt comfortable firing Byron Scott last year without so much as the courtesy of informing her beforehand. We know this because she told us in August on Colin Cowherd's radio show.
That is simply stunning. No owner can succeed if those they manage feel comfortable keeping them utterly out of the loop. The time to hold Jim Buss to his own words is right now.
As is the time for Jeanie to build her own team and get to the business of salvaging this thing.
There is no scenario where the Lakers make the playoffs, let along compete, this season. Jim has to go. Don't waste time, Jeanie. Your organization under your brother has already squandered too much of that.
Which is where Magic, or someone like him, comes in. Lakers nation is filled with alums who have achieved in marvelous ways long after they stopped being Lakers. One of them must be tapped to serve as Jeanie's consigliere -- a counselor with street cred, a legend with capital inside the organization, and an adviser who can help a newly assertive owner shape the organization in the image of her father.
Whoever that person is among a select few choices should be brought in now, either to replace Jim Buss immediately or -- if that's too touchy in a family that must become a Game of Thrones to protect the Lakers kingdom -- once the ax finally swings.
It will get only more difficult for the Lakers. They're behind in rebuilding, and the new collective bargaining agreement will further undercut the old Lakers plan of salvation through free agency. It will also put a premium on drafting, player development and the right basketball culture -- not exactly recent strengths.
Here is a case for each of the candidates who can do the job while connecting future goals to past successes:
This, to me, is the best most likely choice. Magic lives in L.A. and has made no secret of his disdain for much of the Lakers organization's leadership. But in conversations with me and others, he has always held off on criticizing Jeanie, and his public affection and respect for her has seemed decidedly pointed. He has also, without any experience in professional baseball, helped shepherd a turnaround with the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the ownership group. Magic was an awful NBA head coach, but it turns out a face-of-the-franchise role can work to great effect. Give him the authority to hire and fire and the blame that comes with it -- and make him both Jeanie's top adviser and Walton's biggest supporter -- and good things can happen.
Brilliant. Loyal. A basketball-talent-evaluating savant -- he made the draft-day trade for Kobe Bryant, he engineered Memphis' turnaround, he helped build the Warriors juggernaut and put the kibosh on trading for Kevin Love. A Lakers legend. His exit from L.A. was not pretty, but without him the Lakers have slowly fallen into disarray while the Warriors have won a championship and the designation as the league's undisputed best team. Lure him back. Give him the keys to the kingdom -- president of basketball ops. Reunite him professionally with his son (who works for the Lakers). This would be a bold home run -- one that would require Jeanie to fire her brother, accept the departure of GM Mitch Kupchak and return to a since-discarded past. But luring West, though hard, would work. And it isn't as hard to pull off as some might think. It can be done. It simply requires Jerry Buss-like vision and salesmanship, something his daughter can do once she's willing to put herself out there.
Let's keep this short and sweet. Bryant is a natural-born winner. His entrepreneurial skills, post-career, are extraordinary. If Johnson and West pass, see if perhaps the greatest Laker of all time would like to turn his vindictive need to win, his unrivaled work ethic and his deep obsession with the game into a front-office role that turns him into a legend all over again. The Lakers are at their best when they ignore the haters, remain "stuck in the past" and feed off what that can mean for the future.