Dear Jim Buss,
I've been an active fan of the Lakers since 1975. I've seen the good times, and the not so good times. Which in and of itself is kind of amazing. Unlike every other major NBA franchise I can think of, Boston included, we Lakers fans have had for the past three decades almost none of what could legitimately be considered "bad times." There are some overwrought and overly emotional fans who could argue, but they're wrong, and I don't care about them anyway. The point is, we Lakers fans have had good times and not so good times and very, very few actually bad times. The early post-Showtime years were pretty much the only years of the bad, and they turned out to be actual rebuilding years, including the birth in 1996 of the Shaq/Kobe duopoly. And there's a reason for this. For the past 30 years, that reason has been the Lakers owner, your dad, Jerry Buss.
Jerry Buss has not only been unwilling to field a losing team, he has been unwilling to settle for a team that does not have a fighting chance to contend for an NBA championship. There's also a reason for this. As poker pros say when conferring the highest compliment on a player, "he's got gamble." At the poker table, Jerry is known to be a very snug player, hyper-aggressive when he has an edge, and very conservative when he doesn't. As an owner though, Jerry augments that knowledge of when he's got an edge with the gift of gamble. And thank God he does. People forget how much heat he took for major moves like trading Vlade Divac to the Hornets for the rights to Kobe Bryant in the '96 draft. And again, many of the same hoarse voices called for his head when he traded Shaq to Orlando in '04 and stuck with Kobe. I've lived in Los Angeles my whole life, and this town has been lit by Jerry's gamble with a championship trophy on average every third year since he bought the team in 1979. And because of his actual commitment to excellence (as opposed to the empty credo of a certain former and temporary local sports franchise) he has trained his organization, his coaches, his players, his fans, and this city, to accept nothing else. That's why we don't hang conference banners in Staples Center. It's win or nothing.
But here we are now, and it's February 10, 2012, over a year and a half out from a Laker last hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy, and I'm watching Kobe Bryant standing with the ball at the top of the key, looking for someone to pass it to. His choices are Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, Andrew Goudelock, and Troy Murphy, while we're getting ass-whupped by a New York Knicks squad missing its top two stars while being led by an previously unheralded and unsigned rookie sensation. Okay, so it's the night after we outlasted a Boston team on their court in overtime and it might be factored in as a schedule loss. But that's Kobe Bryant out there, healthy, spry, current league scoring leader, if not the greatest baller of all time, then in the discussion for second best. Goudelock's showing some signs of possible future greatness in his rookie season, but come on. This is really our Lakers? Wait a sec, let's review. Okay, we got Kobe. We got the once great but now almost toothless old family dog, Derek Fisher, the majorly talented and very tall yet perpetually self-satisfied and still immature Andrew Bynum, the extremely capable if wounded, soft-handed Euro stylist Pau Gasol, the empty husk of what used to be Ron Artest, and a bunch of journeymen scraps. Wow. That's really it, and everyone's healthy. I know we're in year one APJ, we're in a shortened season, and Mike Brown seems to be a decent coach at least on the defensive end, but come on. It's over a third of the way through the season and the Lakers are 4-10 on the road and could conceivably not make the playoffs. What the hell happened?
Oh wait, that's right, we traded Lamar Odom and Pau to get Chris Paul before the season started and the Commissioner killed the deal, because...I forget. Oh, yeah. New Orleans needed Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman to really cement them as a desirable franchise on the sale market. Then we overreacted to Lamar's overreaction and traded him to Dallas for a trade exception and a first round draft pick. Then Mr. Kupchak borrowed some tools from the league's junk drawer and since then, there's been nothing but speculation and rumor as to certain trades involving Dwight Howard and Deron Williams and a bunch of also-rans. The growing perception among many players and teams in the league, among the punditocracy and the sports pages and the eternally burning blogosphere, is that the Lakers may finally be out of moves. What if Dwight stays in Orlando? What if he goes to the Nets for the super team and gets D Will to stay with him? And the Heat and the Thunder on the rise. And the Lakers are old, they can't afford to do anything big now anyway because of the new, extra-punitive salary cap, the one they're already tens of millions of dollars over, and the new revenue sharing plan, and the meddling small market owners working against Lakertown with the commish, who's now casting his lot with the other L.A. team. Oh man, the Lakers are fucked.
Uh, hang on a second. What's that? Oh yeah. Forgot something. That's right, next year you'll be in the first year of a new, 20 year TV deal paying $200,000,000 - that's two hundred million dollars - for the TV rights to broadcast Lakers games. FOR ONE YEAR. Time Warner Cable has agreed to do this FOR TWENTY YEARS. Where I come from, which is, uh, here, that still qualifies as "fuck you money." And it doesn't even include revenue from ticket sales or merchandise, which currently nets over a hundred million a year, offsetting somewhere in the neighborhood of ninety million in player salaries.
So the real reason I'm writing you is this: if, as some are saying, this is no longer Jerry Buss's Lakers, but is now Jim Buss's Lakers, so be it. The king is dead, long live the king. The bejeweled scepter he handed you is potent, the dominion still strong, my disparagement of our current depth chart notwithstanding. We, the loyal subjects of the kingdom, salute you. But the time is now. It's always now. Father time is ever on the march, and there are young barbarians at the gate. It's your turn. You. Jim Buss. Step out and let it be known. Because things have changed. This is decidedly not your dad's Lakers anymore. It's not his world anymore. It's your world. Largely because as an excellent and visionary patriarch, he's put you in a position to render money almost irrelevant. So allow me to recommend a suitably modest public attitude that goes something like this...
"Yeah, my dad used to run things, but I do now. He gambled his way, I'm gambling mine. I don't give a shit about salary caps and the amount of revenue sharing we have to dish out. I won't be stymied by meddling small market owners or an arrogant, vindictive commissioner. We're the Lakers. We intend to keep competing for championships, every single year, and are willing to pay for the privilege. I'll wear the increasingly punitive salary cap as a badge of honor. No deal for Dwight before the trade deadline? That's cool, we'll be hitting the free agent market this summer, too. Hard. So players, be aware. We are in it to win it. I might give Dwight a max deal, on top of Kobe's max deal. Then I might just throw another max deal for Deron on top of that. And I might just keep Bynum and Gasol while I do it. I may get Odom back too just for shits and giggles and good vibes. Who knows? We intend to get Kobe number six, while we catch the Celtics for all-time titles, then pass them as Kobe passes Michael..."
Okay, I know I'm dreaming impossible dreams in a cap space world, but you know what I'm saying? Imagine it. It's not that far from reality now. You can afford to gamble. You've got everybody at the table covered. Just step up and party.
Two. Hundred. Million. Dollars. A year.
I mean, when you think about it, you really have no choice now anyway. Time Warner ain't paying that kind of sick money to broadcast Clipper games.
The only thing you can't afford now is to give them any reason to.
Los Angeles, Cali