Breaking down "LeBron a Laker?"

By now, I'm sure many of you have already heard about or read Roland Lazenby's "LeBron a Laker?" article at HoopsHype.  There are probably many of you who think this is an an absolutely absurd notion.  Although I think it's highly unlikely, in the world of professional sports, I would completely never rule it out.  Especially in the NBA, the ultimate superstar league, and for the Lakers, the ultimate superstar's team.

This is the part of the business that really intrigues me.  It's not just about what happens between the lines on the court, but what happens behind closed doors in the offices of teams, agents, league executives, and media.  There's an angle to this.  The question isn't about how ridiculous the idea of LeBron to the Lakers is, it's why is this story is being put out there?  And by whom?

This is something to talk about.  Phil Jackson wants you, the Lakers, and especially Kobe, to know this.

This is now the second time within the last few months that Lazenby has written an article referencing the power struggle going on behind the scenes within the Lakers family.  He also brings up Phil's up-in-the-air status regarding his contract status after this season.

His first story (also at HoopsHype 12/21/09), "What Jerry Buss didn't say," Lazenby reads into the annual Jerry Buss press conference regarding the state of the Lakers, then details the tension between two sides - Jerry and Jim Buss on one, Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson on the other.

"Jerry picked the moment to announce that he was stepping back and turning the franchise over to son Jim.

Think about the insult of that for the power couple of daughter Jeanie Buss and longtime boyfriend Jackson....

...Jerry Buss didn’t say a whole lot that day about daughter Jeanie and Phil, and his silence on their accomplishments speaks volumes.

Jeanie’s friends have been furious over the situation for some time now. They like to point out that Jim Buss didn’t even have an office in the team compound, that his big move has been to put his personal bartender on the team payroll.

As one Jeanie confidant explains, Jerry Buss is a misogynist who refuses to accept the idea that his daughter might ascend to run the franchise that he has owned for 30 years.

Buss made up his mind long ago that he was going to turn the franchise over to Jim. As Jerry West once explained of the team owner, "Once Jerry Buss makes up his mind, he normally doesn’t change it."

Still, Jim Buss has been credited with making a series of moves five years ago that cost the franchise dearly, namely pushing for the firing of Jackson and the hiring of Rudy Tomjanovich as coach.

Jeanie’s allies insist that Jim Buss made that move without so much as consulting with anyone else, and Tomjanovich’s short tenure cost the team millions.

It’s no wonder that Jeanie and Phil are uneasy about trying to keep things headed in the right direction with Jim Buss in power."

Phil Jackson is in the final year of his contract with the Lakers.   No doubt, he is angling to keep his big salary, preferably keeping his cushy gig with the defending World Champs.  From "LeBron a Laker?" :

"The Lakers have not made Phil an offer," the Jackson source points out. However, rest assured of this, Jackson’s close associate maintained. "Phil will coach somewhere next year."

Phil Jackson will not stay unemployed if the Lakers decide to hire another coach.  He knows this, but he wants to stay in Los Angeles and make the same money he's making now. Here's where Kobe comes in.

Kobe Bryant has the opportunity to opt out this year and become a free agent.  Kobe has yet to sign an extension, although many feel it is just a matter of when, not if.  But it is Bryant who wields the big stick.  Even if there wasn't an extension on the table, he has to right to remain a Laker for two more years.  His insistence on Phil remaining could go a long way in the future coaching decision of the Lakers oront office.  Could he help in the Lakers giving Phil another contract?  Does Phil believe that?  Most likely, yes on both accounts.

"LeBron a Laker?"

"The wild card in all of this is Bryant himself. Jackson’s camp wonders why the L.A. press hasn’t put questions to Bryant to get him to complain that Jackson is being driven out. Jordan spoke out on Jackson’s behalf early in the 1997-98 season, and that enhanced the coach’s power in his struggle with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Jerry Krause.

"Kobe’s the only guy that can press the issue as a Laker," Jackson’s confidant explained. "What Kobe says will speak volumes. Kobe could go to management right now and say he wants to spend the rest of his career as a Laker with PJ as his coach." This time around, though, Bryant has kept his own counsel and stayed above the fray. Perhaps he has sought advice from Jordan, who felt let down when Jackson walked away after the 1998 championship. Jordan got into the fight and spoke up for Phil but still lost the balance of his career when Jackson quit anyway."

Given this information, it sure seems like this source of Lazenby's is someone who is looking out for Phil's best interests.  Phil is the one with something to lose here.  He's the one still looking for another contract.  Whether or not LeBron's people have actually made overtures is irrelevant.  Kobe has the leverage.  He has two years left and a no-trade clause.  He's dug in.  LeBron can't come here unless Kobe decides he wants out.

What Phil has to know is that the thought of him leaving the Lakers to coach free agent LeBron elsewhere is enough leverage to either force the Lakers hand or force Kobe's hand.  LeBron is Phil's leverage.  These Lazenby articles are nothing more than negotiations and not-so-subtle hints directed at the Lakers and Kobe.  For the Lakers to offer an extension to Phil, but most importantly for the man with the most to lose by Phil coaching LeBron, Kobe.

For a man very concerned about his legacy, what does it mean for Phil Jackson to be able to have definitive opinions on Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James?  Kobe is setting himself up to be mentioned in the same breath with Mike, and a James/Jackson partnership could very well tear it all down.  From a perception standpoint, Kobe has a lot to lose too.

Or look at it from the LeBron to Lakers angle.  Let's say Kobe is offended if he think the Lakers are entertaining LeBron's "overtures," in turn, he leaves the Lakers upset.  Then you know who decides the Lakers are to his liking and decides to come here only with Phil as coach. 

Both angles work in Phil's favor.

From "What Jerry Buss didn't say":

"If Jim and Jerry Buss want my advice – and I’m pretty sure they don’t – they can save themselves a lot of grief and messy embarrassment if they’ll just sit back and chill, and let Phil and Jeanie take over.

Otherwise, it looks like Phil’s about to unleash another storm on the basketball world. Jerry and Jim Buss don’t want that. If they don’t believe me, they can just ask Jerry Krause."

This isn't about LeBron making overtures to the Lakers.  LeBron doesn't want to live in Kobe's shadow, nor his Lakers legacy, playing with Kobe's team.  This is about Phil making overtures to LeBron to get what he wants from the Lakers.  Don't forget about Sam Smith's "Will LeBron Join Kobe in L.A.?"  If you can put two and two together, you will realize that Sam Smith is a journalist who covers the Bulls.  You know?  Phil's old team?  Think there's a connection between the two?  Phil is just letting everyone know that he may have options.  That it just might be in everyone's best interest to give him what he wants.  As you can read in the quotes from above, it's only the Zen Master making a move, pulling strings, and Lazenby is just the puppet.


You can find me on twitter: @wondahbap

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