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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Hoping to strike oil, Lakers' Jim Buss just strikes out in hiring of Mike Brown

As he gains more influence in the organization, the son of owner Jerry Buss again shows he doesn't know what he's doing by picking Brown over several other better candidates.

May 26, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Jim Buss, son of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, played a leading role in the Lakers' decision to go with Mike Brown as their new coach.
Jim Buss, son of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, played a leading role in the Lakers'… (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles…)

[By 2005, Jerry] Buss was... involving his son Jim in decisions... As far as Lakers fans were concerned, [that] was like Jed Clampett turning the Beverly Hillbillies over to nephew Jethro.

-- Los Angeles Times, Sept. 28, 2008

The Ballad of Jed Clampett (cont.):

You've heard of Rudy T?

Meet Rudy II.

Or we could call the Mike Brown hiring Deja Rudy Tomjanovich. If it feels like we've been here before, see if this sounds familiar:

With their glory run over, the Lakers find themselves at a crossroads.

They also need a coach with Phil Jackson having just left.

Jerry Buss' son, Jim, plays a larger part in the process than he ever has.

Jim chooses a nice guy who did a good job somewhere or other and gets a big long-term deal.

Let's have a big Lakers welcome for Mike Brown!

Your new fans all hope you last longer than Rudy ... I think.

If the 2004 hiring of perfect-in-Houston-but-this-isn't-Houston Rudy T was a mistake all around, he did the Lakers a huge favor, bolting at mid-season.

Had he stayed, it would have taken at least to Year 3 to fire him and swallow the rest of his five-year, $30-million deal.

That would have taken them to the summer of 2007 — when Kobe Bryant demanded a trade, with things a lot better than they would have been if Tomjanovich hadn't cleared the way for Jackson's return.

So there goes Kobe, three Finals appearances from 2008-2010 and their 2009 and 2010 titles.

Now, by the miracle that handed a $1-billion franchise to someone whose level of sophistication remains Radio Talk Show Caller, the Lakers just went back in time to Feb. 1, 2005, the day before Rudy T went over the hill!

Brown is a decent coach but all he has over Rick Adelman and Mike Dunleavy is his record ... in the regular season ... courtesy of LeBron James.

Brown kept James in the half-court from ages 20-25 and, at least at the end, they had no Kobe-Phil-type working bond.

The Cavaliers fired Brown last spring to find a coach who had played in the NBA and would drive James — which was what James said he wanted.

That was Byron Scott, who arrived just in time to watch James leave.

Not that this is news to Bryant, who was with James on the U.S. Olympic team in the summers of 2007 and 2008.

Ominously, there's no word from the Bryant compound in Orange County.

You mean the Lakers didn't, at least, run it by Kobe?

They not only didn't run it by him, they chose the only coach in the running he wasn't fine with.

Kobe liked Adelman, Dunleavy and Jeff Van Gundy, who wasn't in the running but should have been.

If they were going to pay $4.5 million a year for a defense-minded, non-Lakers-style coach, the easy choice was Van Gundy, who soothed the press beast as New York Knicks coach, the only job harder than the Lakers.

Apparently, it wasn't easy enough.

"Coaching the Lakers is more than coaching," said a West team official. "You've got Kobe, Vanessa, Lamar [Odom], Khloe, Pau [Gasol], his girlfriend."

Jackson was a cross between Red Holzman and David Letterman, running his zoo, mesmerizing the press, ignoring the pressure like a seal with a ball on its nose.

As a quote, Mike Brown is a really nice guy.

Perfect!

I remember the press session before Tomjanovich's 2004-05 Lakers opener.

By then Fox was televising the Q&A, which had been rollicking with Phil but was a lot quieter with nice, non-controversial Rudy T.

With Shaquille O'Neal, Derek Fisher, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Rick Fox gone, too, it was a brave new Lakers world but the TV camera rolled on, as if these Lakers were those Lakers.

I thought, "Don't they realize this is over?"

Actually, they didn't.

After their confused, finger-pointing, worse-than-the-numbers 34-48 season, Jerry Buss held a rare availability, not just the usual invitation-only chat with the beat writers.

Asked when the team might be back in the West finals, Buss said he was hoping for a couple of seasons.

Of course, he turned out to be right.

Since Jim doesn't talk to the press, I get to make the whole scenario up!

Actually, we had a good idea of what was going on, starting with the importance of any Jim whim.

Star struck as Jim is — which is pure Talk Radio Caller — he started with the big coach names out there, but learned his No. 1 pick, Scott, wasn't out there.

Neither were Doc Rivers and Nate McMillan, who got extensions as soon as word of the Lakers' interest got out.

That left Adelman, Dunleavy with non-starters Brian Shaw and Chuck Person.

Dunleavy became a non-starter, perhaps because of the backlash among local fans.

Adelman wasn't even interviewed. I don't know why they got off him but one thing he isn't is exciting.

If Jerry Buss wanted Adelman, it didn't even matter.

In 2005, Jerry had to sign off when Jim endorsed the plan to draft Andrew Bynum.

In 2011, it was Jim's call.

Jim shut down the interview process after meeting one candidate, Mike Krzyzewski-er, Brown, who is certainly charming and determined.

Then there's the Jerry West angle.

He had just gone to work for Golden State — where Brown was expected to sign.

Did Jim like the idea of stealing West's coach?

In any case, knowing the Warriors were about to make an offer, the Lakers, who had said they would take another week, made the deal Tuesday night, two hours after getting off the plane from the draft workout in Minneapolis.

With the big decisions coming, it's still more about the owner than the coach … assuming things don't blow sky high, which is likelier than it was.

Of course, Jimbo, who has viewed the NBA standing on the shoulders of giants so long, he thinks he's 10 feet tall, will be the one making those decisions.

In one week in July of 1996, the Jerrys, Buss and West, signed O'Neal and traded for Bryant.

In one week of May of 2011, West, the Ghost of Lakers Past, went to Golden State and Jim Buss hired Rudy II.

As Ed Murrow used to say, "Good night and good luck."

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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