To say that Jeanie Buss keeps her inner circle both small and tight-knit would be an understatement. Without wanting to kick a dead horse, the Rambis’ existence within the Lakers front office is the shining example of that.
Another recent example of Jeanie’s loyalty is the re-introduction of Phil Jackson into the fold. Once romantically tied through their engagement, the two have remained close professionally as well. That connection resurfaced with last week’s report that Jackson was advising the Lakers during their coaching search.
But despite coaching the Lakers to five titles in the past, Jackson’s time spent in front offices has been FAR less successful (see: The New York Knicks) which raised some obvious reservations about his involvement back with the purple and gold. Jeanie spoke about his role with the team, and explained why she’s consulting Jackson this offseason in her recent chat with Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times:
She is also getting input from Jackson, a five-time Lakers title coach and her former boyfriend who spends several months a year in Los Angeles. He has become another one of her confidants during this tough stretch.
“People see us around town, we have breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever … it’s not anything romantic,” she said. “He’s somebody that knows this environment and knows the challenges I have and wants to see the Lakers successful, so he’s somebody I know doesn’t have any other agenda than for the Lakers to be successful, so he’s somebody that I can lean on.”
While she’s not wrong that Jackson may not have ulterior motives, the problem is that she’s relying on people who have really bad track records as decision-makers. Whether it’s Kurt Rambis, or Jackson, or even general manager Rob Pelinka, her inner circle is littered with people who have made pretty huge professional missteps.
There is value to having people you trust around you, and Jeanie clearly holds that attribute in high regard. But there is also a lot of value in having skilled basketball minds and executives around you to help make those decisions, and Jeanie has skewed VERY far in one direction on this graph.
But while LeBron James is far from that inner circle with Jeanie, he is someone who has had her ear in the past. He’s also someone that has maintained a reasonably high level of influence in the team’s basketball decisions as well in recent years, most infamously in him voicing his preference to trade for Russell Westbrook.
Jeanie also spoke to Plaschke about having LeBron having such influence within the organization despite only being a Laker for a handful of seasons.
Then there’s the guy who may have more influence than anybody, and Buss will absolutely not apologize for listening to LeBron James.
“It’s normal when you have a top player or players you bounce things off of them, I think that’s smart business,” she said.
It is also clear that if James wants to leave the team, either this summer or after his contract expires next year, it will be of his own volition. Buss wants to keep him happy enough to remain a Laker and is excited about him breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record next season.
“I want him to feel confident in the team, that we have the pieces to win a championship,” Buss said. “He has to be happy. … I want to make sure that he’s happy.”
Memorably, it was a dinner LeBron had with Jeanie that solidified her belief in him. LeBron has had — and will maintain — influence within the Lakers. It’s the nature of having a star player, as Jeanie said, and the nature of having LeBron and Klutch Sports attached to your franchise.
But if we’ve learned anything about Jeanie, it’s also that once you get her ear once, you’ll have it for a long time, no matter virtually anything else. So whether it’s LeBron or Phil Jackson, expect these figures to continue to have a say in what the Lakers do, for better and for worse.