Jerry Buss sheds light on recent practice visit
A visit from team owner Jerry Buss to the Lakers' practice facility during an inconsistent stretch understandably could send the signal that he's displeased with the team's direction and could make changes to the roster. But the intention actually proved to be the opposite.
Buss arrived at the Lakers' morning shootaround before the team's 89-88 loss Feb. 3 to the San Antonio Spurs with many stories surrounding the Lakers, including these in no particular order: Mitch Kupchak's acknowledgement he'd consider a trade, a disputed report that Ron Artest wanted the Lakers to ship him to another team, Jerry West's debatable assertion that the Lakers' age and inconsistency on defense would make it difficult to three-peat, the Lakers' 4-4 record in their last eight games and lack of a signature victory. Instead of being another voice among those questioning the state of the Lakers, Buss said instead that sought to provide reassurance.
"I tried by my presence to come at a time when I tried to make them feel real about that and that things aren't really that bad," Buss said in an interview with 710 ESPN's Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley as part of the Lunch with the Legend series at Morton's Steakhouse in downtown L.A. "If things were really that bad, I would be there every day, every day, every day. I tried to give them a sense that things are not so bad and we're OK and we're going to win. I tried to calm the seas."
That included making small talk with some of the players. That included teasing Artest for not having lunch together for the last three weeks ("You should've called me"), possibly setting up Lakers rookie forward Devin Ebanks with a future girlfriend ("There's a very beautiful model called Ebanks and she related to you") and getting a medical update from Matt Barnes on his surgically repaired right knee ("Are you going to be back in time to do us some good?")
Buss interestingly left out conversations he had with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson but relayed a few interesting anecdotes when prompted. On Bryant, Buss shared an incident that happened roughly six years ago where the two met at Buss' residence and he sensed Bryant was seeking a trade. "I remember him saying, 'Don't blame me. All I'm out here for is to win,'" Buss recalled Bryant saying. "I looked at him and our eyes met and I said to him, "You're not the only one Kobe. You know I want to win, maybe even more than you do.' From that time on, Kobe and I have been on I think on the same wavelength. I think it's true that everybody knows on that team that I want to win just like the Black Mamba."
After Buss took a playful dig at Jackson for dating his daughter and team executive vice president Jeanie by saying "I tell him he can call me, Dad," he shared that most of his conversations with Jackson revolve around the books each of them are reading, with Buss currently scouring through "Unbroken," which details the life of Louis Zamperini, a former USC track Olympian and a World War II prisoner survivor.
Most of the hour-long interview centered around the biography rather than news items, such as Buss' views on a possible lockout, whether the Lakers need to make a trade or the organization's recently struck 20-year deal with Time Warner Cable. He also hurried over to an adjacent dining room afterward and wasn't made available for an interview. But it's safe to say Bussstill shared the same optimism that he did at the morning shootaround he visited two weeks ago.
"We've had such a long run," Buss said. "We've been to the Finals for three consecutive years. All of those extra games play into the middle of June. If you quit in April, it's not hard to imagine that with all that time off, you are ready to go in October. But when we play until the middle of June, October comes around too quick. So October, November, etc, the more times we're in the Finals, the more difficult to begin to prepare for the next Finals. But I think right about now, everybody senses that we have to get busy. This is going to be our time. The pride begins to set in, not the fatigue. The fatigue begins to float away and they say, 'Wait a minute. This is our championship. You're going to have to take it away from us until you call yourself champion.' "
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Photo: Lakers owner Jerry Buss expressed optimism about the Lakers Wednesday to 710 ESPN at Morton's Steakhouse in downtown L.A. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times