When this season mercifully ends, the Los Angeles Lakers will have missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. In the entire franchise’s history prior to the last six years, dating all the way back to their days in Minneapolis, they had missed the postseason five total times.
Suffice to say, the Lakers have hit a literally unprecedented dark age, and while there have been tons of factors going into that, it’s hard not to notice that their former owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, passed away during their final playoff season and they haven’t made the postseason since.
Jeanie Buss, the current controlling owner of the Lakers and daughter of Jerry Buss, is well aware of the team’s struggles, and while speaking to a group of sports journalism students at Chapman University, she acknowledged that the Lakers haven’t lived up to the historical standard that was set for them by her father’s unprecedented success as an owner (via Luca Evans of The Panther Online):
“We haven’t lived up to the brand that (my father) created, and he created a culture of winning and success,” Buss said. “(The Lakers) were always relevant and they were always in the conversation, and I felt like the team had lost that importance.”
In her efforts to get back to that level, Jeanie fired her brother, Jim Buss, installed Magic Johnson (almost an honorary son of Jerry) as her president of basketball operations, and they even signed LeBron James. None of it has been enough to end a heretofore unseen playoff drought, and it sounds like there is nothing she wants more than to change that, and have the purple and gold win over the hearts and minds of Los Angeles again in the process.
However, the Lakers still remain one of the most profitable teams in the league, ranked No. 2 overall on Forbes’ team valuation list, with a value of $3.7 billion. One student asked what Buss’ vision for the team was beyond winning championships.
“We want a team the community can be proud of, and we bring in players that can fit part of something bigger than their individual selves,” Buss said. “(I want to) build something special that, just as my dad said so many years ago, that the community can be proud of.”
In adding James last summer — an incredible basketball player, humanitarian and philanthropist who most find easy to root for on and off the court — the Lakers seemed to be well on their way to this, but that obviously didn’t go as they hoped on the floor this year.
Still, it would seem eminently possible that the Lakers still took a step forward, even if the results haven’t shown it yet. James missed the most games of his career this season, and if that didn’t happen, we would probably be looking at this (still flawed) team a little bit differently.
With James still on the roster this summer and sitting in place as a recruiting chip to lure another free agent into the Lakers’ max cap room, L.A. building the sort of team that Jeanie wants is still very much on the table. They just may have to actually build a team to do it, rather than continuing to roll over players on one-year deals. If they can get the right ones, not only will they finally end their lengthiest playoff drought ever, but they just may capture the hearts and minds of Lakers fans once again.
After all, there are children who are almost 10 years old and still haven’t seen a Lakers championship. If the energy running through the city just from signing James last summer is anything to go off of, the Lakers actually starting to win again will only make Southern California even more electric with the type of purple-and-gold electricity Jeanie seems to be missing.
And if they don’t, well, based on how much she wants to get this team back to what it was, it seems safe to wonder if more changes could be coming.