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Transition game

As the Lakers get set to start their 28th season under his ownership, Jerry Buss talks about gradually handing over the team to son Jim and daughter Jeanie

October 30, 2006|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Jerry Buss sat back in his jeans, casual shirt and an unlaced pair of high-tops, perched comfortably in his living room and flanked by an army of Remington statues as he discussed the future of the Lakers.

He acknowledged starting the gradual process of transferring control of the team to his daughter, Jeanie, and son Jim. He said he wanted the recently repaired Phil Jackson to stay beyond the length of a contract that ends after next season. He spoke glowingly of General Manager Mitch Kupchak and firmly maintained he is two-thirds of the way to a championship blueprint with Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom in the fold, lacking only a "dominant center."

The Lakers begin their 28th season under Buss' ownership when they open Tuesday against Phoenix. There have been eight championships and five other NBA Finals appearances, a legacy whose future the 73-year-old Buss has begun to ponder.

Buss ultimately wants to shift all of his holdings to his children, a process he began recently by transferring to them a small portion of his shares in the team's privately held stock. On Sunday, with a view of Playa del Rey spilling through the bay window behind him, Buss singled out Jim, the team's vice president of player personnel, and Jeanie, executive vice president of business operations.

"That process will continue," Buss said of the stock transfer. "I cannot foresee the fact that anybody but our family will have the Lakers. In terms of passing the torch, Jimmy is certainly taking a much more active role in the basketball fortunes. I think you can lay at his doorstep the fact that we gambled and took [Andrew] Bynum. He was the one out of all of us that said, 'Hey, let's not fool around. We've got to go with this kid.' Some of the others wanted Channing Frye, but Jimmy kept going, 'Bynum, Bynum.'

"Slowly, I would like to turn it over to Jim to see how effective my strategy is while I'm still alive and have time to correct it. Of course, for the business aspect of the Lakers, Jeanie's been doing that for a long time and I have every confidence in the world, and she seems to do a phenomenal job, so I've got no problems there. I'll give Jimmy more and more decisions every few months from here on out until he's making all of them. But I'll always be right there by his side to make sure that I'm in agreement, let's put it that way."

Buss also revealed he was hoping to reach an agreement on a contract extension with Jackson. Sitting in the same room where he told Jackson he wanted to go in a "different direction" after the Lakers' 2004 Finals collapse against Detroit, Buss conveyed a newfound respect, if not need, for Jackson, who is in the second season of a three-year, $30-million contract.

"We hadn't brought it up because of the hip surgery, but now that's done and when I see him walking around, we'll talk to him and see what his wishes are," Buss said. "If he wants to coach longer, then we'll certainly want to have him.

"I think once and for all we might have ended the myth that he only can coach when he has great players, although he has Kobe, who's a great player, but he wasn't deep at all [last season]. The job he did in turning Kwame [Brown] around is an example and getting Smush [Parker] to play much better than he had in previous years, I think you begin to see the real Phil Jackson there."

Buss floated similar compliments toward Kupchak, who is in his seventh season as the team's head of basketball operations.

"I'm really pleased with what Mitch has done," Buss said. "If you look at the entire Laker roster, I think that the best we had in terms of a draft choice was a No. 10, for Bynum. Smush was not a high draft choice, [Jordan] Farmar wasn't a high draft choice, Luke Walton wasn't a high draft choice, Ronny [Turiaf] was not a high draft choice, Sasha [Vujacic] was a low draft choice.

"In other words, I guess what I'm saying, outside of the Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] free-agent thing, we haven't had any draft choices better than 10. If you look through the league, that may well be unique, and therefore, my hat's off to the front office. I think Mitch has done an absolutely incredible job."

The Lakers lost to Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs last season, becoming only the eighth NBA team to lose a series after leading, 3-1. Buss sat down with media members a few months before last season, saying with optimism that the Lakers could be in the Western finals "in a couple of seasons."

He remained bullish Sunday about the franchise's future.

"I think to be a championship team, you've got to have three really great players," he said. "Probably one at each position -- guard, forward, center, that seems to be the best formula. Now you're saying, well, how far can Kwame come or will Bynum be that missing ingredient? The last couple of [exhibition] games, where I saw Bynum, I was pretty impressed. With Kobe and Lamar, I think we've got enough ingredients that if we get the dominating center, I think we could win it."

How soon?

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