Jim Buss wears a baseball cap on a consistent basis in public. Byron Scott acts and talks like some type of off-brand Coach Carter. As we are finding out this season, this type of thing matters a lot in the way that the media covers the team.
Recently Ben Bolch of the LA Times published an editorial essentially blaming Jim Buss for all of the Lakers' problems. This is a story angle that seems to become fashionable whenever the Lakers are struggling, which since current Lakers Executive Vice President of Player Personnel Jim Buss took over primary basketball decision making from his father, the great Dr. Jerry Buss, has been admittedly a lot. But as any rudimentary statistics class will teach you, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. This question of causation is ultimately the one that matters when doling out blame, and so it must be asked: Is Jim Buss to blame for how bad the Lakers are this year? Yes and no.
The reason he is at least partially to blame for the Lakers struggles is that in the end, he is the one who signs off the final decisions roster wise. However, was there really another option that would allow the team to compete for championships within three-to-four years, his publicly stated goal? I would argue there wasn't. The Lakers took their shot at Chris Paul, their trade was vetoed by the league in an unforeseeable and unprecedented situation. Dwight Howard was successfully acquired for not much more than the artist formerly known as Andrew Bynum, but left for a more attractive tax situation and younger roster in Houston. The Lakers took their shots at Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in free agency this past summer, both chose to return "home."
Some would then criticize Buss for failing to spend on "mid-tier" free agents in an effort to put a more competitive product on the floor. This line of thought conveniently ignores two things. One, how would the Lakers overspending for mid-tier players help get them closer to a championship? By locking up cap space on multi-year deals for average players in one of the most competitive conferences in league history? Secondly, who were the Lakers going to get this past summer that would have helped them be significantly better than they are now? Kyle Lowry and Gordon Hayward both agreed to terms before the Lakers courtship of Melo and LeBron was over. It is still early, but Lance Stephenson has been mostly disappointing in Charlotte. Isaiah Thomas has been impressive as part of Phoenix's three headed monster at point guard, but would hardly have fixed the Lakers largest issue, their defense.
Why lock up cap space on players the team knows will either fall just short of or barely make the playoffs, when the team can wait until next summer, hopefully draft a top-five player to pair with Randle, and then take another swing at a legitimate difference maker? That is akin to criticizing a chef whose goal was to make apple pie for not replacing the apples with sweet potatoes when there weren't any apples left rather than just waiting for more. Yes, it would taste better than an empty pie, but not enough to justify the impatience.
The near universal panning of Buss is in stark contrast to the mostly (though to be fair, not entirely) positive coverage received by Byron Scott. Scott is the coach of a now 4-13 Lakers team that, while lacking in talent, has still probably underperformed. This is not entirely attributable to Byron, but some of his decisions have or probably will hurt the team at some point. The over reliance on Kobe, both in terms of usage and overall minutes played, the insistence on starting Carlos Boozer and other baffling rotation decisions, the rudimentary offensive sets, possibly overworking players during training camp, and perhaps most infamously his eschewing of three-pointers under the reasoning of "they don't win championships." Talking about what does and does not win championships is one of Byron's favorite things to talk about, along with reminding people that he is defensive minded and that he will make players work hard, and most of all that he is in charge.
This is how many fans and media members believe a coach should conduct himself, and in my eyes the biggest reason why there is generally a much more positive sentiment regarding Scott than there is towards Buss: Scott is doing an impression of some Pat Riley-esque hardass coach, while Buss is the son of the previous owner who seemingly has a baseball cap sewed to his head and installed his friend Chaz in the scouting department. Byron is also freely available to say "the right thing" to the media; understanding how to give them quotes and "play the game" so to speak, whereas Buss is much less charitable with his time. Is that a factor in how they are covered? Additionally, Buss does not have the luxury of a cadre of ex-teammates and former players in the media who are willing to duck their heads in the sand and point the finger for Lakers failures anywhere but their good friend.
Fans, and people as a whole, are afraid of change and moving on from one of the most successful owners in the history of professional sports to his seemingly silver-spoon fed son. But while his blood may have gotten his foot in the door, Jerry still forced Jim to work his way up through the scouting department, eventually working in tandem with Mitch Kupchak for some of the Lakers' greatest triumphs. As much as the Lakers are beloved and seen as the property of the city of Los Angeles, in the end as a private business owner and father Jerry Buss had the right to give his son a chance to carry on his legacy. Maybe we should do the same.