The Ninja Negotiator: Part 1

If you were at the Buss residence that chilly night in Playa Del Rey, you would have surely noticed a man who easily towered over his colleagues. You would have noticed that his snow-white hair sparkled in the darkness, that his icy glare shot daggers at whatever poor soul it fell upon. Yet the most noticeable thing about this man was the dark power that oozed out of him. Every room he walked into instantly fell silent. The silver-tongued words he spoke had an immediate effect on those who heard them. If you were there that night, you would have followed suit and hung on to everything this man said, for you would know that he was not used to being ignored.

This was a man who could change the course of sports history without breaking a sweat. He was regarded as one of the best in the business, after all, he learned from the best ever. He would probably still be an apprentice if it wasn't for Jerry's accident. Ugh, just thinking of that tragic morning brought back searing pains from his unhealed wounds. Still, he felt that he could have done more, and that if he did, then maybe Jerry would still be.... No, he must not go down that familiar train of thought. He was in charge now. He was the one calmly working in the shadows while the world impatiently waited for something to happen. As he left the midnight meeting, The Boss's words were still ringing in his ears. "We gotta save this season before it's too late. Make some moves, get back to work Mitch."

As Mitch Kupchak discreetly walked into his office at the Lakers HQ in El Segundo, he was surprised to see his new assistant, Glenn Carraro, already tapping away at his HP Envy 17.3" Quad Edition laptop in search of financially friendly trades. Carraro had impressed at the academy, quickly becoming one of the top recruits due to the way he forged a cheap, winning team in the D-League. That kind of financial wizardry was needed with the Lakers budget ballooning to record-breaking amounts under the old regime.

This was just one of the many personnel changes that had been made as Jim Buss took the reigns of the franchise from his father. It had been well-covered in the rumor mills that Jim was the one calling the shots now. Mitch was fine with that being the public's perception. He had always preferred to stay out of the spotlight anyways, unlike the new breed of General Managers who talked a big game but had no results. He missed the good ole' days, before the lockout. Then again, the lockout was a necessary evil. They needed to make a stand against Stern. The reign of terror needed to end.

Everybody thinks that Stern has to listen to the owners since he is the Commissioner of the NBA. That used to be true. Larry O'Brien, Stern's predecessor, followed that rule. Commissioners in other leagues follow that rule, some do it to a fault. Along came Stern however, and a new era was ushered in. There is a reason why he is hailed as a genius by some in the industry, and a power-hungry tyrant by others. (No, don't waste your time trying to figure it out, I'm going to tell you silly!) The aforementioned reason is that he is both a genius and a power hungry tyrant.

While the NHL has had all the lockout related coverage recently, you must not forget that the NBA has had two lockouts under David Stern, and one was narrowly avoided in 2004. In the media, it was reported that this was due to disagreements on how to share revenue. The fact of the matter is that Mitch had to broker a temporary cease fire between the Busses and Stern in 2004, a cease fire that immediately broke down a year later and culminated in another lockout in 2011. While it wasn't as bloody as 1998, they lost a lot of good men such as Mitch's former assistant Ronnie Lester. In all honesty, the Busses should have seen it coming. Stern had clearly been devising a series of events that would weaken the Lakers. He planted seeds of doubt in Phil Jackson's head that almost made him retire from field work in 2010. Mark Cuban was revealed as one of Stern's sleeper agents in 2011 after his top general, Dirk Nowitzki, finally defeated Major Kobe Bryant's forces in the Battle of Dallas. It was revealed later that General Nowitzki had employed psychological torture tactics on Lieutenant General Pau Gasol during the battle, effectively weakening his abilities, and ensuring victory for the Mavericks. Gasol still seems to be traumatized by the torture.

In the end, the Busses were triumphant, defeating Stern and resuming league play on Christmas. However, Stern's biggest gambit took shape on December 8th, a day that will forever live on in infamy. Stern orchestrated a veto of the Chris Paul trade, giving him away to the "rival" Clippers. Then, Lamar Odom was unmasked as a double agent, and he was exiled to Dallas where he defected to the Mavericks. Pau Gasol, who was further traumatized after nearly being traded to Houston, was forced to remain in Los Angeles. Stern had realized that the Lakers planned to utilize Gasol's new location in Houston to spy on Mark Cuban in Dallas, which would have disabled one of his top agents. But with a little help from Dan Gilbert, Mark Cuban and David Stern seemed to have destroyed the future of the Lakers. However, the Lakers always plan for emergencies. Unbeknownst to Cuban, the trade exception and the draft picks acquired by the Lakers would allow them to trade for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard along the line, while ridding themselves of fools such as Andrew Bynum. These moves came swiftly, and out of nowhere. Such is the mark of a ninja negotiator.

On top of that, the news broke that Stern would be stepping down as Commissioner in a few years, with Adam Silver taking his place. It seemed that the Lakers were in store for a dream season. But it was too good to be true. Mike Brown (the great Phil Jackson's successor) was deemed ineffective, and was terminated. The Lakers then considered allowing Phil Jackson to return to his previous duties, but they decided against it, instead hiring hotshot Mike D'Antoni who had defected to the good side. Still they struggled. Excuse after excuse followed, Pau Gasol appeared to be on his way out once again, but Mitch refused to make any moves before new agent Steve Nash returned.

The Boss however, had had enough. He called for a meeting at his estate where he demanded changes, or else more heads would roll. That brings us to the present, with Mitch Kupchak and his new assistant Glenn Carraro searching for trades.

Will a trade be completed? Will Pau Gasol's struggles finally end? What happened to Jerry West? Will David Stern and Jerry Buss settle their differences in a drunken bar-fight on a remote island? I guess you'll have to wait for "The Ninja Negotiator: Part 2" to find out!


Read Part 2 of the Ninja Negotiator Series!

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