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Jim Buss gets the last laugh

With Dwight Howard following Steve Nash to the Lakers, Buss makes his father proud.

August 10, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Jim Buss, right, and his sister Jeanie Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers pose with Dwight Howard.
Jim Buss, right, and his sister Jeanie Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers pose… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

The criticism has been relentless, Jim Buss the longhaired spoiled brat, who beyond everything else nasty that could be said, is apparently nothing like his father.

And while he's reluctant to talk about his role in acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, preferring the Lakers' "front office team" to take the bow, Jim Buss has to admit to feeling goose bumps.

It's about 9:30 Friday morning, the Lakers talking to the NBA office and finalizing the deal for Howard when Buss' phone rings.

It's his father, Jerry.

"He wanted to know the terms of the deal, the teams we were dealing with and who was going where," Jim says. "And I'm saying, 'Dad, you just got out of surgery 14 hours ago; what are you talking about? I can't even believe you're on the phone.'

"I was with him [Thursday] night and he was basically incoherent and he was going to be like that for two or three days. But now the nurse has him on the speaker phone, and while I'm thinking he's fallen off and gone to sleep again, he suddenly wants to know the money situation and who gets what and who gives what. Are you kidding me?

"So I tell him, and then I get an, 'Incredible job, Jim,' from him, and let me tell you, that erases all the insults and anything else anyone has to say. To help make him comfortable and happy, that's what I work for."

As down as everyone has been on Jim Buss, he has now turned the trade exception in letting Lamar Odom go to Dallas into Nash, Andrew Bynum into Howard and Derek Fisher into Jordan Hill.

"The team has done all that," Buss says, by way of correction, but given Nash's and Howard's back injuries, Howard not even running yet and refusing to say when he will be ready, and the age on Nash and Kobe, might the championship euphoria be premature?

"I absolutely agree," Buss says. "But you don't win by playing it safe; you have to gamble and that's what we've always done. I think if you look at this team now, it's one of the best teams we've ever had."

But who is a worse free throw shooter, Howard or Shaq?

"No one is worse than Shaq," says Buss, and the kid is starting to feel frisky,

However, if all this doesn't go well, a la Payton, Malone, Shaq & Kobe, there is no doubt who will be treated like a piñata.

"I know there are always going to be Jim Buss haters; I'm the guy replacing one of the all-time owners in sports. But people don't realize the great teachers I have had over the last 15 or so years. Put these guys as college professors and you'd have the top university with Jerry West, Magic, my dad, Bill Sharman and Phil Jackson. And what doesMitch [Kupchak] mean to me? Everything."

Funny about all the criticism of Buss. Nary a word comes from Kobe, who has never been bashful about saying he expects more from the front office.

"To see that statement from Kobe about how Howard can take his place when he's done, how great is that?" says Buss. "I've always felt Kobe can play more than the two years remaining on his contract, but we can't even sit down and talk to him about it until April 2013. I don't know how he feels, but he's been a Laker for life and I don't see that changing."

Buss sat in the audience beside his sister, Jeanie, while Howard and Kupchak sat at a table before the media. Howard accepted a Lakers' No. 12 from Kupchak, joked about his Superman cape chilling in his hotel room, and needing to iron it later. Then he did an imitation of Kobe talking, as good a chance as any to get a smile out of Kobe on the court if he does it there.

The guy is made for Hollywood, dancing away from the circus that has followed him the last year by announcing a fresh start and declining to discuss how his reputation has taken a beating.

He says he talked to Kobe by phone, and told everyone else he's willing to follow Kobe's lead, while looking forward one day to leading a team of his own to a championship.

Uh-oh, we've been down that path before.

But Friday he was all smiles, loving L.A., he says, thrilled to be here and taking in all the love from people he's met, yet unwilling to say if he will sign a contract extension next summer.

Uh-oh, we've been down that path before.

Might the Lakers be in for another Howard summer circus, or might they just be coming off a championship parade?

"How exciting is all this?" Buss says. In June he told everyone the Lakers might start the season with the same personnel as they finished — the critics quick to pounce.

"People are impatient, and I am very patient," he says. "Things change, and what changed was the opportunities. We reached out to Nash; it was a longshot, but when we did, he was intrigued.

"Fortunately, we had the trade exception or we could never have done the deal. We got extremely lucky because Steve took less money to come here. We never expected that to happen."

Buss stops to ask if I have ever met a president.

"There's a certain aura to someone like that; you can be standing right before them and it's still unreal," he says. "That's how I felt with Nash."

He says Howard has what it takes to be the future of the Lakers' franchise, Orlando calling this week out of the blue and Philadelphia's desire for Bynum making it all possible.

"There aren't many players we would trade Bynum for, but Dwight…" says Buss, and right now he's sounding as giddy as most Laker fans. "I'm seeing Dwight at the press conference, but I'm still not believing what I see."

The news conference was over, media everywhere, and on a day when everyone had a chance to detail how well things have gone, Buss left unnoticed.

They'll just get him later if things go sour.

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