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Call him Scrooge if you like, but Jim Buss believes in Lakers

Jim Buss says this Lakers team — without Dwight Howard, minus Lamar Odom — has the pieces it needs to win another championship.

December 24, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Times columnist T.J. Simers' grandchildren Mackenzie Neilsen, left, and twins Emma and Rylee Neilsen with Santa Claus.
Times columnist T.J. Simers' grandchildren Mackenzie Neilsen,…

I show him the picture of the grandkids screaming and sobbing after Santa Claus tells the twins it's up to Jim Buss to bring them a Lakers' championship, and Jim Buss laughs.

"Look at this one," Buss says pointing to the 7-Eleven Kid, who is standing there all smiles.

Why should she be different from every other Clippers fan?

And so it goes, the potshots flying, a guy on the radio calling him "stupid" and a blogger referring to him as an "idiot."

After all, Scrooge is ruining the Lakers, now aren't you?

"Wow, that's quite the punch to the gut," Buss says.

Well, how about this? The Clippers have made the Lakers appear old and less athletic.

And what about losing Lamar Odom, getting nothing in return and irritating Kobe? Won't it take Dwight Howard to save the franchise?

There's no hesitation from Buss. "I think we have a championship team, and that's without making another move."

Now the newspaper guy is telling him he's nuts.

"I'm not as worried about this team making a run for the championship as maybe everybody else is," he says. "I know people are shook up and especially after Lamar left, but give it time."

He's got 66 games.

And that's possibly with a slow start, what with three straight games to open, Andrew Bynum suspended for four, some pup named Devin Ebanks to start and a new coach still teaching.

"I don't know what our record will be during the first half, but I believe over the last 33 games going into the playoffs we will have the best record in the West."

He must be counting on the arrival of Howard.

But he shakes his head, no.

"I don't understand the thinking that we need saving as a franchise," Buss says. "We have three All-Stars, and we need saving?"

There's an Internet report suggesting Orlando was willing to trade Howard for Bynum and Pau Gasol, but now he's shaking his head as if in pain.

"Where does this stuff come from?" he says. "You'd have to be kind of silly to give up two All-Stars like that for Howard. Zero truth to it. We have never been asked for Andrew and Pau and we've never offered them. I think they know we'd either say no or they would sound crazy for asking."

There are some who contend Buss is so enamored with Bynum he would be blind to all trades with Bynum's name mentioned.

"Let's just say this," he says. "You have to give up something to get something. And I'm willing to give up something to get something."

But nothing is happening.

"We've done everything within the rules that we could to explore this situation until we were just spinning our wheels," he says. "The player is still in control of his own destiny; he can block a trade just by saying I'm not going to sign a new deal and stay where he is.

"I personally believe now that we have the team that we will be playing with all season long."

Blindfolds, please.

"I believe in this team," Buss says with conviction. "Our job is to always look to improve, but I really like this team."

Kobe was saying the same thing after the first preseason game, and shockingly so, considering his dismay over Odom's departure and the bench fodder hired by the Lakers.

Does Kobe really believe the team has the players to win another ring, or is he "livid at Jim Buss" as one ESPN screamer has been claiming?

"What is Kobe supposed to say? 'Thank God, we got rid of Lamar'?" Buss says. "Of course he's going to be upset; everybody is going to be upset. Fans are upset and I'm right there with them. I'm a Lakers fan and I'm upset.

"But it's a business; decisions have to be made. Lamar felt deeply hurt he was being traded. I'd feel the same way. It was a bad day and we expected him to miss practice because it was a bad day. I'm sure Pau was upset too. But it was more than that with Lamar.

"He told us he didn't feel he was going to be a Laker anymore even if he played with us. He said the same thing in an interview after he went to Dallas. We had to do it; we lost him. I'm sorry the trade was leaked publicly before it was completed. It wasn't our fault, but we lost him mentally."

And got nothing in return?

"When people say that, I don't understand. We were still trying to make another trade, and if we had acquired two players for Lamar, we could not have traded them in a package for 60 days. That would have restricted us. A draft pick allowed us more flexibility to make a deal."

But aren't the Lakers weaker without Odom?

"It's a fair argument to say so," Buss says, "but I don't believe that. I think what we've done to open up the floor with the outside shooting that we've acquired — it will only make Bynum and Gasol that much more dominant."

OK, so at the very least it was a salary dump.

"If we wanted to dump salary we could have gone amnesty with Metta World Peace or Luke Walton. But we never considered it," Buss says. Call him names as some do, but he does answer questions directly.

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