Jeanie Buss did a lengthy sit-down with Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times that I would encourage all Lakers fans to read today, as it seems almost sure to be the most notable thing written about the team this week (and as such, we will be blogging and podcasting our takeaways about the most notable parts of it over the next several days). But among the most notable portions was the embattled team governor’s continuing defense of her reliance on Kurt Rambis, and longtime advisor Linda Rambis.
Buss defended basically everyone involved with this year’s team — except for Russell Westbrook — in the full story, but especially the power couple Lakers fans know simply as “The Rambii.”
First, she had a reminder for any fans who dare to wonder “why is Kurt Rambis arguably the most powerful basketball voice around my favorite basketball team, and how has he earned that power other than his wife being best friends with the owner?”
Here is what Buss told Plaschke about her senior basketball advisor (yes, that is Kurt’s actual title).
She offered strong backing to another embattled Laker basketball exec, Kurt Rambis, who won 28% of his games in four seasons as an NBA coach and whose increased influence has been met with public derision.
“I know that there’s been some unfair criticism of Kurt Rambis,” she said. “I want to remind people, he’s been involved in the NBA for close to 40 years, that he has been a part of championship teams both as a player and assistant coach, he is someone I admire for his basketball knowledge.”
Plaschke noting that Kurt won just 28% of his games as a head coach in his line leading into Buss’ quote asking how anyone could dare to criticize his basketball judgments is why he has long been considered one of the best columnists in the business. But because I don’t have a print outlet’s space constraints to worry about, let’s go a little longer on those more than 40 years around the NBA for ol’ Kurt.
He was drafted in 1980 as a third-round pick, and carved out a 14-year playing career and won four titles as a valuable role player on multiple Showtime Lakers teams. So that chunk of his experience is good, as is his time as an assistant on Phil Jackson’s coaching staffs in Los Angeles, where he won four more titles (he was not around for the 2000 championship).
But pretty much anytime Kurt has been the lead decision-maker on anything, it has gone up in hilariously inept flames. Plaschke noted his winning percentage as a head coach, which is bad, but to put it in further perspective, in Rambis’ only stint as a non-interim head coach, he was somehow even worse, going 32-132 with the Minnesota Timberwolves before being fired after two seasons. His .195 winning percentage over that time, for context, is the second-worst in the history of one of the least successful NBA franchises ever, trailing luminaries like Randy Wittman (38-105, .266), Sam Mitchell (29-53, .354) and his old pal Kevin McHale, who clotheslined him again with a 39-55 record (.415).
Rambis’ most recent coaching stint, as the interim leader of the New York Knicks, ended with a 9-19 record and some poor team spokesperson having to write a statement to the media blaming hackers for Rambis publicly liking a bunch of porn tweets. All in all, Rambis’ career-winning percentage as a coach is the 66th-worst in NBA history, which is likely the reason for all those “unfair” questions and criticisms about why he is one of the most powerful voices in the organization, Jeanie.
So yes, your best friend’s husband may have stuck around the league for 42 years now, but when it’s been you, your dad, or your ex-fiancee — who is also still advising you — giving him jobs for all but eight years of that time between his playing, coaching and front office days, that’s not that great of a defense.
But speaking of that best friend and close advisor, Jeanie also “offered a strong endorsement of Linda Rambis” to Plaschke, and “vehemently denied” that her executive director of special projects (again, yes, that is Linda’s actual title) is making basketball decisions for the team:
“In terms of Linda Rambis, she does not have a role in the basketball department; her role is, as it’s been for the last almost 40 years, is as my advisor,” Buss said. “She and I have worked together for years and years and years. Why that has become an issue for people, I don’t understand.”
The reason that has “become an issue for people,” Jeanie, is that there are legitimate questions to be asked by fans and media alike about how the team went from missing the playoffs just twice in 42 years under your father’s stewardship to only making them three times in the 10 years since you were made primary governor. That kind of failure is going to lead to questions about who you’re relying on throughout it all, even if you win a title in that window, and no matter how close you are with them personally.
And it’s not just “people” on the outside who have questioned Jeanie’s reliance on Linda, either. People inside the organization are even reportedly “confused” about what exactly she does and why she has so much power. So this is not just some made-up, outsider criticism that can be chalked up to people just not understanding internal team dynamics. This is something actual employees have groused to reporters about.
In the past, Jeanie has waived all such critiques of Linda away as simply sexism, and in her chat with Plaschke, she doubled down on making it clear that while her friend has an important role in the team, it’s not in basketball operations.
Buss was reminded of the murmurings from basketball insiders claiming Linda Rambis was involved in free-agent signings. She responded that Linda Rambis deals with players only after they sign, helping them and their families adjust to life in Los Angeles.
“Every team has somebody like that, in our case it’s Linda. … She’s done that for over 30 years with the Lakers,” Buss said. “Not like all of a sudden she’s become the assistant general manager, that’s not true.”
The idea that Linda was making free agent or trade decisions was always kind of ridiculous, so it’s fair of Buss to push back on that, even if Plaschke doesn’t link to those rumors, and I’m not sure anyone all that credible really, actually believed that.
Still, while Linda may not be directly making choices on the roster, if her presence is part of the reason Buss is relying on her husband Kurt, or if she is a voice Buss relies upon for council about other people she’s hired over her time in charge... well, as we went over in the Lakers largely futile last decade or so, that’s why her decision-making skills are being called into question. If Jeanie trusts her advice so much, then it would stand to reason she is at least part of the reason the Lakers are stuck with such ineptitude in the front office, and so it doesn’t really matter if she’s making the calls herself. She has at the bare minimum helped create an environment where everyone is getting criticism and no one wants to take any accountability, and so she’s getting a little bit of heat herself now, too.
If Jeanie doesn’t like all this, or thinks it’s unfair, then there is a simple solution: Win. No one was asking questions about the brain trust she relied upon when they won the title. If they can do that again, all this goes away. But if they don’t... sorry, but the questions are going to keep coming, until she hires someone based solely on their merits, instead of their past or current connections to the team and its power brokers.