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Jeanie Buss shares a theory on the Lakers' struggles, talks about NBA contraction

January 21, 2011 |  2:37 pm

Everyone can relax. There's a very specific reason why the Lakers (31-13) enter Friday's game against the Denver Nuggets mixing in winning streaks with inconsistent performances, have gone 5-6 against winning teams and trail the San Antonio Spurs (36-6) by six games in the Western Conference standings.

And, at least according to Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, the reason has little to do with inconsistent defense, offensive chemistry and effort.

"I hate to say this, but I think because they decide who's going to coach the All-Star team based on the standings on Jan. 30, so it looks like Gregg Popovich, the coach of San Antonio, is going to be the coach," Buss said. "I kind of think Phil [Jackson] likes not being in first place so he can get the weekend off."

Jackson, who's coached four All-Star teams, has long made known his disdain for NBA All-Star weekend, so it wouldn't be surprising if he jokingly supported Buss' theory. After all, the only way he avoided coaching last year's team despite holding the conference's best record is that no one can coach in consecutive All-Star games.

A more serious contention from Buss came regarding the collective bargaining agreement that expires June 30. She expressed optimism to the Journal regarding avoiding a potential lockout (a sentiment she also shared in November with The Times' Lakers blog), and expressed openness to the idea of contracting the numbering of NBA teams, a sentiment that Commissioner David Stern and LeBron James have endorsed but Lakers guard and National Basketball Players Assn. President Derek Fisher has questioned.

"I would hate to see us lose teams, but I think contraction is something we have to consider," said Buss, who's spending her first year with the league's labor relations committee. "We may be in some markets we shouldn't be in."

Buss also had some sympathy for Kobe Bryant, considering he's steadily climbed up the NBA's all-time scoring list. Bryant currently is in ninth place with 26,895 points and is on a pace to surpass at least Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946), Elvin Hayes (27,313), Moses Malone (27,409) and Shaquille O'Neal (28,580) during this season and next.

"Every game, it seems like he's breaking a different milestone," Buss said of Bryant. And they've projected, the way he's playing, [that] by the time he retires he can be in the top five in scoring. Any time you lose games due to a labor issue, that means he doesn't get to play games. That would really, really break my heart."

As it would for Bryant, but for different reasons. When asked about the $750 million to $800 million owners are seeking in reduced player salaries, he told in mid-November that "they need to make the right judgment themselves and stop trying to force us players to be the ones to make adjustments. They've got to look in the mirror and decide what they want to do with the sport, and we as employees will show up and do what we've got to do."

-- Mark Medina

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