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Lakers fans have to hope that there's something in the heir

COMMENTARY

May 13, 2007|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant looks at the dearth of talent surrounding him on the Lakers roster and seethes with frustration. General Manager Mitch Kupchak, seeing the barriers facing him in terms of the salary cap and trade possibilities, seeks to publicly lower expectations. Coach Phil Jackson, surveying the situation, puts off contract-extension talks.

Bleak picture for a storied franchise?

Not if you talk to the new kid on the block, Jim Buss.

OK, so at 47, he's not a kid. And he's hardly new, having spent nine seasons in the Lakers' front office, learning the family business.

He may not yet have broken into the public consciousness, but, be assured, the training wheels have come off. Designated by his father, Jerry, as the future head of the basketball side of the operation, Jim is making his presence felt, voicing his opinion in the councils of power. And that opinion, according to those around him inside and out of the organization, is that the sky is not falling on Laker land.

Just the opposite. Jim is optimistic, if not realistic. And long-term, it is his opinion that will count most.

It is his sister, Jeanie, who is the public face of the next generation of Busses. She's the one dating the head coach, running the business end, creatively planning team ceremonies and prominently seated behind the courtside celebrities.

Jim prefers a more low-profile role, usually sitting in his father's box in the upper level behind the baseline, or chatting amiably in the media room.

He is mentioned after Kupchak in the Lakers' media guide, but don't be fooled by that. Jim is not in training to be the next GM. Kupchak will report to Jim whenever Jerry, 74, chooses to relinquish control.

After running the Lazers soccer team for his father, Jim briefly left the organization to train racehorses because, he told the The Times in 2002, "I was tired of the feeling of taking a paycheck from Dad."

He's ready now to be the one issuing the paychecks. So what kind of operation can we expect under Jim? There are no direct answers because he declined to comment for this column.

But he gave some clues this week while a guest on 570 AM, the Lakers' flagship station, telling the audience:

* Bryant needs to be aware that any trade involving him would require the other team to surrender its best player. For example, trading Bryant to Cleveland would cost the Cavaliers LeBron James. Any trade, Buss said, would markedly weaken Bryant's new team, giving him no greater guarantee of a championship than he has with the Lakers.

In other words, Kobe, don't think leaving L.A. is the panacea for your frustration.

* Although he certainly respects Jackson, his accomplishments and his right to run his team as he sees fit, Buss said he doesn't like Jackson's tendency to criticize his players in the media. That's not my style, said Jim.

Best player in the game and a Hall of Fame coach. Jim Buss is clearly not intimidated by either of them.

No silent partner here. He has his own ideas and, at some point, he will implement them when he inherits the family jewel.

*

Wait a minute: Where was Jim when the Lakers dealt Shaquille O'Neal, then still one of the best players in the league, to the Miami Heat and didn't get Dwyane Wade, Miami's best player, in return?

*

When the news of Diego Corrales' fatal motorcycle accident Monday reached me, I immediately thought of another Corrales moment.

No, not his stunning 2005 victory over Jose Luis Castillo when Corrales came back from two knockdowns in the 10th round to win on a TKO before that round had ended.

That is certainly the boxing highlight people will tell and retell whenever Corrales' name comes up.

But I was thinking instead about Corrales sitting in the Van Nuys gym of Joe Goossen, his former trainer, talking about the birth of Corrales' daughter, Daylia.

His eyes twinkling, his voice animated, his hands moving, he described the frantic scene in his Las Vegas home when his wife, Michelle, went into labor.

Re-creating an old "I Love Lucy" episode, Corrales, who had painstakingly packed several bags in preparation for the drive to the hospital, recalled how he loaded everything, leaped behind the wheel and started backing down the driveway, only to realize he'd forgotten something.

Michelle.

Corrales roared with laughter at the memory.

That's how I will remember him.

*

There was an early visitor expected at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City this Mother's Day, a woman alone carrying three bouquets.

It was Marge Hearn visiting her family, husband Chick, son Gary and daughter Samantha.

It has been nearly five years since Chick, the legendary Lakers announcer, died at 85 following a fall in his backyard. Gary died in 1972 at 29 following a drug overdose, Samantha in 1990 at 43 from pneumonia.

"My family is all together," said Marge, who also has a granddaughter, Shannon, and a great-granddaughter, Kayla.

Marge, who will turn 90 in July, shrugs off the advancing years.

"Ninety," she said, "is the new 80."

*

steve.springer@latimes.com

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