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Family matters at top of Lakers' pyramid

Jim Buss, son of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, is taking on increased responsibility, and pressure, in player personnel matters. He's also sounding more and more like his father.

November 24, 2009|By Mike Bresnahan
  • As Jim Buss, right, takes over 90% of his father's day-to-day tasks with the Lakers, he says the goal is 'to stay one step ahead of the competition.'
As Jim Buss, right, takes over 90% of his father's day-to-day tasks… (Los Angeles Times )

As the responsibilities get handed down from Lakers owner Jerry Buss to his son and daughter, more and more will be asked and demanded of Jim Buss.

Jeanie Buss has already been given the business side of the Lakers by her father, but Jim is now entrusted with about 90% of his father's decision-making processes on the basketball personnel side, according to Jerry Buss.

It's a sensible time for the shift, seeing as how the Lakers won the championship in June and are favored to win another one this season.

Weighty expectations often come with added stress, but not necessarily for the younger Buss, who recently turned 50 and said he felt "no pressure" with the ever-growing workload.

"If we win it again, I'll look to raise the bar even that much more. I'm not one that sits pat on a win," Jim Buss said. "You kind of want to improve because the other teams, that's all they're doing, is basically improving to beat you. If we can just stay one step ahead, and that's how we run the team, just stay one step ahead of the competition."

The Lakers have the league's highest payroll and are on pace this season to pay additional luxury taxes that would leave them with a total bill of $112.7 million.

Like his father, Jim Buss called the money "well spent" and called Ron Artest's five-year, $34-million Lakers contract "a bargain."

At the same time, the younger Buss also expressed a degree of discomfort with how much money was being doled out.

"We don't like that it's that high," he said before mentioning his father. "He yells at me every day, basically, for the payroll. Of course it would be great to spend $60 million instead of $90 million and have the same team, but to maintain that team, it's pretty difficult to do."

The Lakers are currently on pace to pay $91.3 million in salary and $21.4 million in taxes.

Jim Buss was directly involved in the signing of Artest, who replaced free agent Trevor Ariza, a popular and rapidly improving small forward who is now with Houston after negotiations with the Lakers quickly crumbled.

"I was maybe a little bit harder pushing toward Artest," Jim Buss said. "My dad likes him a lot, too. I think when Ariza kind of balked at our offer, that really kind of set the wheels in motion for Artest. 'You want to keep the team intact' is your first feeling, but I think Artest is an incredible defender and he's a perfect fit for this team.

"He was impressive to me when we sat down and talked to him. I know he's got that [bad] reputation. When you talk to him, you can't see that. He's been good for years. I think he's a good guy. I think he realizes what he really wants, and that's a ring."

Both Busses agreed that, to paraphrase Vince Lombardi, winning isn't everything -- it's the only acceptable thing this season. "It would be hard to say that we've been successful unless we won," Jerry Buss said. "I guess that's the mark of success, is if you win it. We're a mature team and our goal is to win it this year. And next . . . and next."

More Buss

There were other observations from a Sunday interview with Jerry Buss.

With contract extensions looming in the future for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers' high-spending ways could continue for years to come. Bryant, 31, and Gasol, 29, have contracts that expire after next season.

"In a lot of ways, I think we may be frozen there for some time," Buss said of his bulging payroll.

Buss also had words of admiration for Derek Fisher, particularly when reflecting on Fisher's series-turning three-pointers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last June.

"He's Mr. Clutch," Buss said. "Another one, just like Jerry West, Robert Horry. Those are the memorable shots."

Familiar face

Former Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis stopped by the Lakers' training facility after Monday's practice. Rambis, who now coaches the Minnesota Timberwolves, is still friends with Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. The Timberwolves were in town to play the Clippers on Monday night.

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