Few words are more synonymous than “LeBron James” and “legacy.” Anytime he ties his shoes it’s some statement about how well his bunny ears compare to Michael Jordan’s loop, swoop, and pull. So while you might think he always has more at stake than anyone in any given season, it’s actually his principal governor, Jeanie Buss, whose reputation in her role with the Lakers is at greater risk this year.
Buss has lived a charmed life even beyond everything that comes with being Dr. Jerry Buss’ kid. For years, she got to be the most popular Buss sibling through comparison to Jim’s failings. Now, though, despite her claims at wanting accountability, she’s bristled at any questioning of her leadership, especially as it pertains to her inner circle of Linda and Kurt Rambis, Rob Pelinka and Tim Harris, plus the open door policy she has with Magic Johnson and Phil Jackson.
The Lakers currently employ one of the thinnest front offices in the NBA, and arguably one of its least diverse, as basically everyone she has hired has been a loyal personal friend. No one would care if the Lakers were achieving consistent success, but they’ve been more consistent in missing expectations in the five years since Jeanie fired her brother and Mitch Kupchak.
Yes, the Lakers do have a title under their belt, and that can never be discounted, no matter how hard people try with all the bubble nonsense, but they’ve also missed the playoffs in two of the four seasons with James, were swiftly eliminated in the first round in another, and now head into this season poised to once again merely compete for a spot in the play-in tournament.
And as the Lakers have slid since winning that championship two seasons ago, Jeanie’s younger brothers, Jesse and Joey, have reportedly gained power within the organization — something fans have welcomed with full-throated support because of their success with the scouting department. Could they be experiencing the popularity by comparison to Jeanie that she once enjoyed with Jim — with the key difference being that they have had an impact on basketball whereas Jeanie has always focused on the business side of things.
Pelinka’s latest contract drew ire and, notably, was never announced publicly as it was last time the Lakers extended him. It seemed odd that Jeanie would extend Pelinka shortly after the most frustrating season in Lakers history but, so long as Pelinka is in his position, there is a ceiling to how high Jesse and Joey can climb. That extension cooled Pelinka’s seat considerably, but if the Lakers once again struggle because he couldn’t trade Russell Westbrook, Jeanie might have to either bring in someone to the general manager position that has remained unfilled since Pelinka’s post-Johnson promotion or allow her younger brothers to assume more responsibility.
The Lakers would market themselves as exceptional, but under both Jim and Jeanie, are better known around the league for not investing in various aspects of the organization, which, again, wouldn’t matter if this bare-bones front office got results, but they haven’t. Either Jeanie will have to invest in the franchise she runs, or her leadership will continue to be questioned until eventually (if we aren’t there already), fans start calling for her to lose some responsibility.
You know, actual accountability — the kind Jeanie loves to say she welcomes.
As all this goes on, the Lakers remain a vote away from a sale, too. Our own Harrison Faigen wrote about what it would take to arrive at a place where the Lakers would be for sale but essentially, four of the six siblings would have to ok the decision. Jeanie has said she would never vote to sell, most recently Janie said she want to keep it in the family, and as they’re poised to potentially take over, Jesse and Joey likely wouldn’t vote to sell either anytime soon. Johnny and Jim, though, are probably different stories. So if, at any time, two of Janie, Jesse or Joey change their minds, the Lakers could potentially hit the market.
In other words, the Lakers won’t be put up for sale anytime soon, even though the Buss siblings don’t flex the same financial muscle as ownerships around the league and would stand to immediately take in close to a billion dollars each given what professional franchises are going for now.
That doesn’t mean that fans won’t keep pressuring the Buss family to sell if things continue the way they have the last two seasons, though, nor will they stop clamoring for Jesse and Joey to wrestle power away from Jeanie if the Lakers once again put us through whatever last year was again.
So yeah, while one might think LeBron always has the most to gain and lose in the Lakers organization in any given year, it’s actually Jeanie who desperately wants to avoid being seen the same way Jim was at the end of his tenure, and if this offseason is any indicator, it’s not looking great.
I spoke about this with Harrison this week in “The Lakers Lounge” after we previewed this season, potential scenario by potential scenario.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.