Jim Buss is probably not enjoying his Tuesday very much, to say the least. The Lakers vice president of basketball operations came under fire in an unflattering column from Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report on Tuesday morning, and while Lakers fans should certainly read the whole thing for some perspective into the inner workings of the organization, one nugget pertaining to the team’s free agency plans stuck out.
For whatever self-assurance (or possibly sarcasm and/or delusion) is worth, Buss is painted as someone who is incredibly confident in the Lakers’ ability to recruit big-name free agents. Swings and misses at Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge over the past two summers would seemingly put a bit of a dent in such feelings, but it seems that those failures have not diminished Buss’ faith that the Lakers will still be seen as an alluring situation to two of the top free agents on the market over the next two seasons (emphasis mine):
Some believe Jim was so blatantly confident because he figured LeBron James was coming to the Lakers as a free agent that summer.
Indeed, his father had shot for the stars often and hit. So why wouldn't it happen again?
So Jim told people that Carmelo Anthony was coming the next summer. He told people that Howard was staying the previous year.
He told people as soon as the Lakers' recent season was winding down that Kevin Durant was coming this summer…with Russell Westbrook the next.
As of right now, the Lakers are still trying to get a meeting with Durant after not even making his initial list of teams he would visit with during free agency. Needless to say, that’s not exactly an encouraging sign that they have a real chance to sign him.
Some will paint Buss’ brashness as a good thing. Shouldn’t the executive of a team always believe they have a good chance to sign the best players?
Others, however, can point to it as a sign Buss and the front office are not aware of the Lakers’ standing in the league. The purple and gold still has some allure to be sure, but when the money teams can offer is equal, players are much more likely to flock to a winning situation than jumping into the pressure cooker of becoming the Lakers’ savior.
Buss’ front office has had success in the draft that they can point to, and no matter how involved in the selections of D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, Jr. you believe Buss was, they are still a feather in his cap. Either Buss does have some ability to evaluate young talent, or he is at the very least willing to sit back and let others (his younger brothers' ability to evaluate players are painted in a positive light in the column) knock the draft out of the park.
The Lakers should certainly not be faulted for trying to sign good players like Durant (and Westbrook next summer), because having good players is a good thing. The issue, however, is if they are banking on those big names signing on, which is an unlikely scenario to phrase it charitably.
But in lieu of Durant joining up, the Lakers should be making sure they are doing everything they can to help their young core grow and look as good as possible, either to use them to trade for established players or lure them to play alongside them.
We can't know for certain whether or not the Lakers' plan actually hinges on signing players like Durant and Westbrook, or if they consider those just pie in the sky scenarios, but the answer will probably determine whether or not Buss is still the one around recruiting those players for much longer.
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