Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss would like you to know that she is not pleased. She’s not pleased that the Lakers missed the playoffs, and she’s not pleased that the roster that went 33-49 in the regular season cost more than $200 million, including a bit of dead money and an estimated $45 million luxury-tax bill, per Spotrac.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times‘ Bill Plaschke, Buss described all of the losing as “gut-wrenching,” “heartbreaking,” “extremely disappointing” and “hugely disappointing.” She said she understands the “anger and frustration” from fans and pledged to “make it better.” She also said that she wants LeBron James, who has one more year on his contract and will eligible for a two-year extension on Aug. 4, “to feel confident in the team, that we have the pieces to win a championship.”
Buss did not address Russell Westbrook’s future with the franchise, citing the fact that, after firing Frank Vogel, the Lakers are without a coach: “Having a conversation like that is premature. We have to now find the right coach to lead this team. Depending on the style of play that that coach wants to play, given the roster that we have, it all has to start to come together.”
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With the 37-year-old James and the 29-year-old Anthony Davis as the Lakers’ cornerstones, Buss said that she believes the front office can build another championship team. “There’s no reason for me to think we can’t win with them,” she told the Times. “Something that I learned from Phil Jackson is that there’s always a path to success.” Buss said she has “complete confidence in our front office, which is headed by Rob Pelinka,” and “complete confidence that he can put together a roster and find a coach that is going to get us back to where we belong.”
Buss stuck up for Kurt Rambis and said she admires his basketball knowledge, but denied that Linda Rambis has input on basketball-related decisions. She confirmed that she still leans on Magic Johnson and Phil Jackson, adding that both want the Lakers to be successful.
As controlling owner, Buss is “held accountable for every decision that’s made here,” she said. She said the team is “not for sale” because it was important to her late father, Jerry Buss, that the team stay in the family: “I like to say, my dad had his children, but the Lakers were his baby, and he put me in charge of the baby, and I will make sure that the baby thrives.”
For this particular baby, the unfortunate reality is that it has little flexibility this offseason. There is not a robust trade market for Westbrook, who has a $47.1 million player option for next season. The Lakers will not be rewarded for their terrible season with a lottery pick, as they traded it in the Davis deal. They have no second-round pick, either. Assuming they don’t waive-and-stretch Westbrook, all they have at their disposal is the $6.3 million taxpayer midlevel exception, minimum contracts and trades. This is an awful situation for a team with a top-heavy roster, but Buss said she wants fans “to be optimistic that we’re going to get the team back on track just as they expect.”
Even though Buss expressed her support for Pelinka’s front office, she said that she will “look at everything” and “make the hard decisions” if the team is not “living up to the Lakers standard.” It sounds like another season like the one that just finished will not be acceptable.
“I’m growing impatient just because we had the fourth-highest payroll in the league,” Buss said. “When you spend that kind of money on the luxury tax, you expect to go deep into the playoffs. So, yeah, it was gut-wrenching for me to go out on a limb like that and not get the results that we were looking for. I’m not happy, I’m not satisfied.”
The Lakers reportedly interviewed former Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts and former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson for the job that previously belonged to Vogel. Reported candidates also include Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin and Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham.